Nathan Jack: Time to replace elections with Democracy+

Picking our leaders at random would be better than hard-fought elections.

Congress is broken. With few legislative accomplishments, we shouldn’t be surprised at its abysmal 16% approval rating. But with midterms approaching, all five Utah incumbents up for election won their primary. And all five are projected to keep their seats.

In states and districts across the country, incumbents easily win reelection. Despite our dissatisfaction with Congress, nothing changes.

This problem lacks an easy solution. Many look to term limits. Sen. Mike Lee himself has long advocated for senators to serve two six-year terms (although he seems unwilling to apply that rule to himself). Others look to campaign finance reform, as fundraising is one of the biggest advantages that incumbents gain. But these measures only treat the symptoms. We need to rid our government of the disease.

The disease? Elections.

What have elections given us? Career politicians who are captured by special interest groups and political parties. Legislators who spend most of their time campaigning instead of legislating. Representatives that look nothing like the population they are supposed to represent.

In Utah, 50% of the population is male. But all six of our legislators are. Roughly 50% of the population is Republican. But all six of our legislators are. Roughly 60% of the population belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But all six of our legislators do. And 30% of the population has a bachelor’s degree. But all six of our legislators do. Our state Legislature isn’t much different.

For a legislative legitimacy, representatives should resemble the population they serve. Every Utahn deserves to have their voice heard. Elections prevent that. Even those in the majority should be appalled at this representative gap. Group decisions improve as people with different perspectives contribute. Elections give us groupthink.

Fortunately, elections aren’t the only method for selecting legislators. Instead of electing them, we should randomly select them. In fact, in ancient Athens — the birthplace of democracy — most offices were filled by lottery, not election. Aristotle posited, “The appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratic, and the election of them oligarchic.”

Oligarchy, indeed.

We already have a lottery system in place for one branch of government: the jury. Most are generally satisfied with relying on juries in the judicial branch. Why not apply that to the legislative branch as well?

Democracy+ (as I like to call it) is a jury system for Congress. Each of us is a potential candidate that can be drawn by lottery into office. If selected, you would enact legislation alongside fellow citizens — debating policy, hearing evidence from experts and voting on bills.

By randomly selecting citizen-legislators, Congress would better reflect the makeup of the population. More Utahns — beyond white, male, Republican members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — would have a say, because people like them have a seat at the table.

Elections enable power-hungry politicians to kowtow to lobbyists for personal gain. Democracy+ empowers ordinary citizens to deliberate on behalf of those who share their beliefs.

And by bringing ordinary citizens together, Democracy+ cures yet another ailment: divisiveness. The political climate today is toxic. The gladiatorial contest elections promote bleeds into our community. Some 90% of Utahns believe that political debates have gotten less civil over the last six years. It reached a point where in 2020, Spencer Cox and Chris Petersen ran a joint ad — despite being political opponents — calling for Utahns to bring civility back to politics.

Contrast this environment with deliberative bodies of citizens. A private group in Iceland, for example, organized a National Forum of 1,200 randomly selected citizens and 300 stakeholders to discuss values and priorities. It worked so well that the next year, the Parliament sanctioned another forum to consider constitutional reforms. A testament to the forum’s collaboration and compromise, 95% of participants believed it was a success.

We can continue the charge for civility by replacing divisive elections with a system that breeds collaboration. As one of the most innovative states in the country, what better place to implement Democracy+ than Utah. Let’s end elections. Let’s randomly select our state legislators to provide a model on how to fix Congress, before it’s too late.

Nathan Jack

Nathan Jack is an attorney in Salt Lake City, focusing on criminal appeals. He resides in Lehi with his family. To read more about Democracy+, you can visit Nathan’s website: democracyplus.substack.com.