If Men Were Angels...: Should the Checks & Balances System Include Electoral Reform Juries?

48 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 14 Apr 2013

Date Written: 2009


Electoral Fundamentalism is the belief that unfettered competition for voter support among candidates for an elected office is adequate to maximize social welfare. It is analogous to Market Fundamentalism, the belief that unfettered competition for customers among private companies is adequate to maximize social welfare. Mixed Democracy, in contrast, is the belief that the quality of democracy can only be maximized if competition among “vertical agents” (such as candidates for an elected office) is managed by “horizontal agents” (officials from other branches of government). The Framers of the U.S. Constitution designed a system of mixed democracy: vertical and horizontal accountability mixed together. But they designed their system of horizontal accountability, popularly known as the “checks and balances system,” to enhance democracy writ large, not small; specifically, they generally granted elected representatives wide latitude to design the institutions and rules setting the terms for their own re-election - as long as they didn’t interfere with the powers of other branches of government. To rectify this type of type of omission in current systems of horizontal accountability, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario each held a “Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform” in the mid-2000s. These randomly selected public bodies are only one type of a larger class of randomly selected public bodies called “electoral reform juries,” which can be categorized along a continuum from low- to high-cost formats, including the citizen assembly jury as an intermediate-cost format. More institutional creativity is needed to realize the full democratic potential of such public bodies. The external elected official bias and member self-selection bias associated with the the citizen assembly format are not intrinsic to electoral reform juries but only their particular implementations to date.

Keywords: electoral systems, term limits, redistricting, democratic reform, citizen assemblies, Citizens' Assembly, horizontal accountability, Madisonian Proviso, legislative information systems

JEL Classification: N40

Suggested Citation

Snider, J. H., If Men Were Angels...: Should the Checks & Balances System Include Electoral Reform Juries? (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1451155

J. H. Snider (Contact Author)

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