Taking Back Our Government: Jury Duty For All?


A Manifesto For Real Representative Government

The Electoral College shall be abolished. Article 1, Section 2, Clause 1; Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1 and Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2 shall be amended to provide for random computer  selection of all Federal Elective offices from Internal Revenue Service tax rolls of citizens within the appropriate Congressional District, State and Nation respectively according to existing Constitutional requirements. This amendment shall supersede the Fifteenth, Seventeenth and Nineteenth amendments.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment

As I look back over my experiences as a voting citizen since 1972, I have viewed with increasing alarm the growing disconnect between the citizenry and the leaders and representatives we elect. I have watched the increased growth and power of a Political Class disconnected from the needs of the citizenry as well as the alarming increase and importance of money in our electoral system. This corruptive influence of money on elections has further isolated the aforementioned political class by allowing a defacto form of two-tier citizenship. One class of the wealthy and corporate citizens who have real influence on government, another, lower class of regular citizens like you and me who have little or no influence on the actions of our government. Over the course of those decades, I have seen the Congress repeatedly try and either fail to enact significant campaign finance reform or have it’s efforts frustrated by contrary legal decisions that enshrine that unequal influence on our elections. This view was most recently reinforced by the Supreme Court’s activist ruling in their recent decision on Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission.

Ballot BoxAs a result of these actions, I have been forced to conclude that the pernicious influence of money on politics has become a clear and present danger to the functioning of our Constitutional Democratic Republic. I have further been forced to conclude that the elective system we have currently in place no longer provides for Real Representative Government responsive to the needs of the citizenry at large. I have, therefore, long pondered what changes can be made to restore citizen control of and real representation within that government. With the recent Supreme Court decision throwing out over 100 years of legal precedent, I do not see Public financing of elections as a credible path to reform. It is time to consider radical solutions to this problem. Since the acknowledged intent of the framers was to ensure that representatives to our government would accurately reflect the citizenry at large, what is needed is a mechanism to restore and reinforce that reflection.

My mechanism for reform would abolish all federal elections for legislative and executive offices and replace that mechanism with one based on random computer selection for all current federal elective offices from Internal Revenue tax rolls. All existing Constitutional requirements for office would remain in force. Using myself as an example, as a 56-year-old native-born citizen with no felony convictions from the 2nd Congressional District in New Mexico, I could be selected as the 2nd District Congressman, Senator from New Mexico, Vice President or President. Companion laws would be passed based on existing statutes governing National Guard Service and Jury Duty. The mechanism would work as follows.

As a citizen who files a tax return, my records, along with every other taxpaying citizen, are held by the Internal Revenue Service. Every two years in the case of the House of Representatives, four years in the case of Presidential and Vice-Presidential offices and every six years in the case of Senatorial offices, my name would be put in a pool of likely citizens within my Congressional District, the Nation or my state respectively. If I were chosen for office, I would be allowed a leave-of-absence from my job for my term of office. I would still be paid my regular wage while I served in office and all my expenses incurred doing the government’s business in office would be financed by the government. I would serve one two, four or six year term in office. At the end of my term, I would return to private life and my old job as another selectee would take my place. Since selectees would be chosen from IRS rolls, no political party affiliation would be noted or considered. Indeed, for the first decades of the Republic, political parties did not exist as organized entities. There would be no retirement pay or perks given as officeholders get today nor would there be a need for an actual salary for any of those positions as all officeholders would receive their regular wages while in office. Any employee of a corporation would be required to recuse himself from any legislative or executive action benefiting his employer while in office. A companion statute would be enacted allowing lobbying only by citizens within the selectee’s district or state to ensure the officeholder’s independence and impartiality.

This mechanism would, in one stroke, eliminate the corruptive influence of money on politics, restore real citizen representation in government, provide term limits since only one term in office would be allowed, and foster an increased participation in the political process. Officeholder selection would be taken from the hands of political party organizations and opened up to the citizenry at large. Indeed, mechanisms could be built into the selection process to provide a more accurate reflection of ethnic backgrounds so the Congress would actually contain the same ethnic representation as the citizenry itself. I also see this process as a mechanism to open up state and local offices as well. I use the federal offices as a model that could be transposed into state Constitutions with similar mechanisms and results. With a federal model already in place, that example could be amended into the 50 state constitutions. The actual selection process could be overseen by non-partisan organizations such as the League of Women Voters to prevent any attempted chicanery.

This, then, is the essence of my idea. I offer it to this board and the body politic for comment, question and expansion.

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  1. Since you invite serious comment, my first concerns are while representative, where is the institutional memory needed to maintain continuity? I dislike bureaucrats, find them generally overweight, and apathetic. Present bureaucracy helps maintain our dysfunction, because by nature these people do not stick their necks out. That said, we currently need them.
    Like any representative organization, some evidence of character and commitment is required. How do you plan to establish those credentials?
    It seems like the last bastion of present democracy is our compromised judiciary, which was carefully dismantled during the last Republican regime. Would it not be better to restore our constitutional judiciary, since that has some semblance of balance left?

  2. This is an interesting concept and one I have never considered. I think along with this idea, one would need to be educated on the functions and processes of government along with an accurate knowledge of history and world events. Some in our society are true leaders, while others do not have that desire nor ability. Something dramatic must be done to curb the power and corruption in our government, and this does offer an interesting perspective, for sure. Way to think outside the box!

  3. Given that 30% of the nation is comprised of people that think Obama is a socialist Kenyan Muslim and humans walked with the dinosaurs 6000 years ago, I have some concerns about this plan.

    My own politically impossible master plan involves eliminating the Electoral College, eliminating the Senate, replacing life terms for the Supreme Court with 10 year terms, increasing the size of the House so that each district represents the same number of people as the least populous state (@570) and mandating computerized apportionment guaranteeing equal-sized contiguous districts. My final amendments would state unequivocally that corporations are not persons and not entitled to the rights and protections of individual citizens under the Constitution, and mandate exclusively federal financing of all federal elections. I know there’s little chance of passage but given the weather today, there might be ice forming in hell.

  4. I read this story with open mindedness, and concluded that you’re missing the whole point of the recent Supreme Court decision.
    The way to solve the problem is thru decentralization, removing power from DC, and getting the federal government out of nearly everything it’s tenticles have a hold of of.

    It’ bothers me that the Court considers a corporation a person, since there’s no logic in that thinking, but if one just follows what Willie Sutton said when he robbed banks, then this nation can start fresh.

    Why do you think the corporations fund so much money towards candidates? If they can donate $5,000 to a candidate, and if or she wins, then inserts a provision in a bill that gives this corporation a break or a subsidy worth millions, wouldn’t you do the same?

    This mindset has to end!!!!! Until this mindset ends no matter what you try to come up with, and what ever new system or amendment you come up with, this will continue on and on and on.

    Just think in the terms of the Drug War. If a cop is making $30,000/yr, yet, some druglord gives him double that amount to turn his or her back, it’s hard not to take the money. Same principle applies.

    Reduce the federal government by 90%, and the problem goes away. Are you willing to keep more of your own money, as well as your neighbors and friends and end this problem?

  5. I have further been forced to conclude that the elective system we have currently in place no longer provides for Real Representative Government responsive to the needs of the citizenry at large

    Didn’t Thomas Jefferson have some suggestions on what to do when the government is no longer of the people?

    Nice ideas, but until that fiction that corporations are ‘persons’ entitled to OUR rights is stripped from the law books, nothing will matter.

    Money and power could and would corrupt even the most honorable one among us. If that didn’t work, there’s always blackmail, threats and extortion….. and to keep others in line, the always reliable ‘suicide.’

  6. Thank you all for your kind comments and remarks.

    Simon:What we have now has continuity and memory but not repreentation. You are also correct in wanting character and committment. Admittedly, I was actually taught civics in my elementary and secondary education, something lacking in today’s dumbed-down educational system. That said, I would trust my fellow citizens to perform right action more than the political class we have now. As for the judiciary, the question that must be asked of nominees is this:
    What is your philosophy to enhance personal liberty and the rights of citizens in this republic?

    Poolman: This is WHY civics and history education must be paramount. we had it when I went to school. Why not now?

    cdithaca: I agree that a certain percentage of people are dumber than a bag of hammers but would put my trust in the 70% majority to educate them as well. Also, this would be one amendment not 5 or 6 as you propose. I DO like the idea of tying this in with computerized reapportionment of districts. As for the rest, they could be accomplished by statute instead of amendments.

    hatchcar: This amendment would go a long way to decentralization since it would bring non-politicians and ordinary citizens into positions of power. They could use common sense methods to determine that a self-perpetuating bureaucracy is not accomplishing the job and take steps to rectify the situation. The idea IS to build a more perfect union, after all. As for corporate influence, while still dangerous, they wouldn’t know who to target and the targets are replaced wholesale each term so the system would be self-correcting. The problem is not government. It is inefficient, corrupt government.

    GregBacon: This method would tend to prevent a new revolution with the violence and hardships it engenders. The framers were correct to trust in the citizenry’s common sense to act in their and the nation’s best interest. Also, since it is a random selection, no one would know who to bribe/cajole/blackmail/suicide until they were chosen and that might only work for that term of office at best. On the other hand, they might get a smart-ass like me who would tell them, like the young Mondego, to Do Your Worst. Money and power will always tend to corrupt. You ensure limiting power by limiting service to one term only.

  7. Never happen. And why would you leave that enclave of plantation owners, the senate, in place and for the same outrageous and unaccountable 6 year terms? I think the problem is “representative” democracy which allows the “representatives” to sell everybody else out; in other words, it just makes it easier for the the fed funded corporates to have their way when they only have to bribe a couple of hundred people.

    With the technology we have today, everybody could vote from home and voting would be mandatory ($350-$1000 fine depending on income) as well as civics. We could actually have this kind of modern direct democracy today but no, of course those bloodsuckers aren’t interested in cutting off their corporate teat and so many corrupt and genocidal constructs would come crashing down.

    Not to be unkind but how much thought did you actually give this post?

  8. Any federal measure that diminishes individual liberty is immoral; any federal measure that does not promote, preserve, or defend individual liberty is unconstitutional. Abolish the 16th and 17th Amendments, for starters. Of course, the chances of this happening are practically nil; still, it is worth knowing the proper targets for civic reform, just in case.

  9. Thank you once againfor your comments.

    zacknick:Actually, a fair amount. My purpose in writing this piece was not to change the structure of government, merely to open it up to real citizen participation. As for the Senate, I was born and raised in the most populous state in the Union, California. Now I live in New Mexico, one of the least populous ones. I agree with the intent of the framers that the Senate should stay as a check on the power of the more populous states and help prevent the Tyranny of the Majority. I DO agree that there is no reason, with today’s technology, that we could not establish direct democracy with all citizens voting on everything. That said, I was attempting to encapsulate, in one amendment, a sea change in that participation. In fact, passage of my amendment would foster the growth of direct democracy, particularly if similar amendments were enacted at the state level. I have no illusions about it’s chances of passage since no politician will vote for something that will put them out of a job. I also note that the only time multiple amendments were ratified was the Bill of Rights. Also remember, the landmark case that enshrined corporate personhood, Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886, never actually addresses corporate personhood. The language was inserted into the decision by a law clerk after the fact. So the issue of corporate personhood was never directly addressed by the Supreme Court one way or the other.

    Daniel Peacefully: I quite agree. If you look at the history of our amendments, the overall direction was to increase liberty and bring the voting franchise to an ever-greater percentage of the citizenry. I, personally, was a benificiary of the 26th amendment(18-year-old voting), since I was 18 and in the Navy during the 1972 election. What my amendment does is to increase liberty by opening up representation to the citizenry at large instead of some discrete self-perpetuating political class. Liberte’, Egalite’, Fraternate’!

  10. It’s a nice idea. But in practical terms it won’t work.

    There’s too much money and power for people at the top. And naturally, they’ll fight like hell to keep it.

    Another point to consider. Lots of people keep talking about “The Great Turning Point” that will push people over the edge (hopefully not violently) to act. Consider for a second everything that’s happened up until now. And despite all of that, do we have a daily, growing and visible protest movement? It stopped the Vietnam War. Why can’t it be done again?

    David Crosby had a good point on this. The reason this movement hasn’t happened yet is because there’s no national draft. Iraq and Afghanistan are in many ways like Vietnam was in the beginning. At night, you’d eat dinner and listen to the daily body count (almost like listening to the stock market results for the day). But as more people were drafted and killed, the reality hit home.

    That hasn’t happened yet with Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s far away, sanitized and fit into nice and neat soundbites (for your convenience). People in the rest of the world can deal with Press TV, Al Jaezeera English and the reality that they show. Yet, the Stateside MSM has certain “standards” to maintain.

    Obama has said that he will do ANYTHING to maintain our “national values” (power in the world). Do you really think that he’s going to let China become the dominant power in the world? So while I hope I’m wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did reinstate the draft. How else will you maintain wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran at the same time?

    Somebody has to fight them. And when it’s your son/daughter/mom/dad, how can you then not say that this does affect me?

  11. Hi T,

    What finally prompted me to write this piece was the flurry of similar articles proposing various amendments to abolish corporate personhood or restrict corporate influence on elections while missing the fact that our elections of the past 10 years have been “decided” with electronic machines that were all but built to allow external manipulation of result tallies and a track record of doing just that. Bradblog has been all over this and it goes back to Clint Curtis in 2000. None actually go to the root of fundamental reform of our system to ensure real citizen representation.

    Of course, I know my idea probably has a snowball’s chance in Hell of being either enacted or ratified since so many powerful interests’ oxes would be gored. That said, as I have spoken of it to people I’ve met, I found that people from across the political spectrum have given favorable responses and agree to it’s fundamental fairness. So if an idea can appeal to socialists, liberals, moderates, conservatives and even teabaggers like my brother-in-law, it might just have some actual merit to it.

    As for “The Great Turning Point”, remember that we’re have just as many mercenaries in both Iraq and Afghanistan as actual troops. My take is they will bankrupt the nation before they actually institute a draft. Meanwhile, suburbanization has helped to isolate the poor and increase their numbers to provide the new Janissaries for their dreams of Empire.

    So, if we ARE to have a Great Turning Point and we’re all talking amendments, an amendment that can draw support from across the political spectrum stands the best chance of surviving the organized campaign of vitriol from the threatened interests that is sure to be unleashed on it if it gains popularity.

  12. And you have thought through how this proposal would weaken and not strengthen the existing administrative bureaucracy both secret and public?

    I believe to lessen the strength of the executive and make the legislature preeminent, why not similarly choose agency heads and cabinet members?

    Stagger them for five year terms with the cabinet distributed, and CIA, NSA, and NSC leadership staggered for certain. That would be similar to the chief of the FED having to pass approval but serve on a cycle different from Senators and the President.

    Ambassador appointments, etc., would need a look at civil service categorization, and provisions but could be conformed.

    Last, how do you reform the fact that the pipeline for information to the top has undue control on the decisions made based on the information? How do you assure the quality and agenda-free credibility of information flow?

    Would you require periodic reevaluation and reenactment of treaties?

    What about all legislation having sunshine clauses, so that unless reenacted the changes cease, date certain?

    What about tax policy simplification?

    How do you set the pay for senior officials within civil service?

    I am trying to get traction for one simple Constitutional amendment:

    “Money is not speech, and constitutional rights of persons apply only to actual human beings and not corporations.”

    Keep it simple. With that change in the constitution the passage of financial reform could not be overturned on bogus grounds as the supreme court [no longer deserving capitalization as signifying loss of respect] most recently did.

    Finally, I would use census data, not IRS data, and the census need not be on a ten year cycle since redistricting could be more frequently done, and hence be fairer that way as populations shift.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  13. @Ishmael,

    Done the right way, it could have momentum. I’m just trying not to post the same old “when are we all going to wake up” stuff. Know what I’m saying?

  14. Anonymous Coward says:

    I’m with you, but we need to ensure that the random assignment by the computer stays random.

    The computer & software need to be built on open-source technology, and we need to be able to check their integrity whenever we feel like it!

    Let us not repeat the mistakes made when they implemented electronic voting!

  15. Ran across this essay written by Sheldon Richman. I think he nails it.

  16. Something very much like this system was used in Ancient Athens, and worked, for over 400 years. From the Reforms of Cleisthenes at the end of the 6th century B.C. until democracy in Athens was abolished by Sulla in 86 B.C., almost all offices at Athens (with the exception of the 10 generals — the highest executive officials — and some financial officials, who were elected) were chosen from among the body of adult male citizens by lot (sortition). In fact, it is not quite certain when sortition at Athens began. It may go back to the Reforms of Solon in the early 6th century B.C. But it was certainly in practice once high democracy got going in the 5th century B.C. under Ephialtes and Pericles, and thereafter.

    There were a few interludes of oligarchic rule in Athens during this period, especially after Athens lost wars, but democracy — with sortition — always returned after a short time. It had become as much a part of the national character as republicanism has been part of the French national character after 1870. When Athenian democracy was ended once and for all, it was by the external force of Roman military power.

  17. Hi,

    My name is Yoram Gat. I am a member of a group of people who are interested in promoting the selection of public officials by lot. As lysias above notes, this method is called sortition (also known as allotment).

    We recently launched a blog devoted to the dissemination the idea of sortition and the exchange of related items (news, papers, etc.) The blog is called Equality by Lot, it is at http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/. Please drop by and join the conversation.

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