As has been observed, my The World As I Would Make It leaves a lot of policy details undefined. That was deliberate – some I haven’t put enough thought into or acquired enough knowledge to define. Some I just didn’t want to include because it would make the post too sprawling.
One issue I care a lot about but have not yet put enough study (and, to a lesser extent, thought) into is the structure of the government itself. I thought I’d sketch something out anyway, but I’m not at all convinced that what I’m describing here is a great idea. I like the overall shape of it and the aims are valid, but a lot of the individual details may be suspect. In particular, any numbers present here are basically made up and should be regarded as complete wild assed guesses.
Basic Government Structure
The structure of the government is similar to the classic two house system as seen in e.g. the UK. You’ve got the House, a body of 100 candidates whose role it is to pass laws (analogous to the house of commons), and you’ve got Oversight (analogous to the house of lords) who are required to approve it.
Additionally you have a prime minister (and maybe deputy prime minister?) who is not a member of either body (and does not get a vote in them) who acts as head of government.
The prime minister is elected during the general election, which is not tied to the appointment of members of either house (more on why later). This may be called for by a majority vote in any one of House, Oversight, or the electorate (or the existing prime minister may call for it. However this doesn’t differ much from explicitly stepping down).
The system is, strictly speaking, not a democracy. It’s a meritocracy. However the conditions for merit are not a very high bar to meet – they are designed to ensure a basic level of competence and interest.
The reason for this a lot of you will disagree with me on: I don’t regard voting as a right. The role of a government is not to obey the will of the people, it’s to maximize the benefit to the people. Citizen oversight is essential for this, and democracy is currently one of the best ways we have of achieving this. However in order of decreasing importance it goes benefit, oversight, democracy.
It’s currently far too easy to vote. This means that the vote is very manipulable by spin and media campaigning. I’m not in favour of making it very difficult to vote, but I am in favour of dampening this effect.
How to earn the vote:
- A school education is required (remember: Part of the curriculum in my desired school system is “critical thinking”, which includes a bullshit detector)
- Regular community service (this idea thanks to Dave Stark)
Beyond these criteria there is exactly one crime for which you can have your right to vote permanently (unless you later manage to prove yourself innocent of course) removed from you: Interfering with the democratic process. This includes but is not limited to vote rigging, putting pressure on someone else for how they would vote and bribery.
The way the community service works is this: You don’t have to do a lot. The requirement is probably something like you have to have averaged X hours per month for the last 6 months (which could be done weekly or in one batch or whatever you like). This is assigned to you randomly – it’s not skills tested, it’s not in any way reflective of privilege. One way to do this would be to have it so every 10 hours of work you are given two random options and may choose between them. If you genuinely feel you are unable to perform either of them you may appeal, but this shouldn’t be a straightforward process.
Details need to be worked out in terms of “grace periods” in which you can make up missed community service, etc. It’s important to get right, but for now I’m just going to assume that something sensible can be worked out and then tinkered with when it’s tried out in practice. People who work in the military should probably be automatically counted as performing community service while on duty (but be required to do some while on leave). Additionally people who are required to spend a lot of time out of the country (ambassadors, people who work on oil rigs, etc) may get special exemption to perform extra community service whilst in the country.
As a side note, I think you need to be eligible to vote when the vote is declared, not when the vote is performed. No last minute “oh shit I care about that, I’d better do some community service in a hurry”.
Peoples’ eligibility to vote
So. You’ve earned the vote. How does voting work in practice?
First, how is Oversight elected? It’s not. It’s a jury service. The members of Oversight are randomly selected from the electorate. You are allowed to refuse election. Elections are for (staggered) fixed terms, and you may step down at any time.
For the House the voting is a little more traditional. As we’ve discovered recently, this is quite a controversial subject and I haven’t fully made up my mind on my preferred system, but for the moment I’m going to borrow/paraphrase one I quite like from the Swiss. It’s a modified form of range voting (I don’t actually especially like pure range voting, but do mostly like the following modification).
Every voter gets 10 votes. They are not required to use all of them. These votes may be assigned to candidates. A voter may assign up to two votes to any given candidate. Tally the number of votes each candidate get and select the top N.
This system is used to elect members of the House: You vote for the entire house of representatives (it’s not a constituency system, although one expects that most representatives will target their campaigning at least somewhat geographically) and the top 100 representatives get in. I’m unsure what mechanism is used to elect the prime minister. If there’s also a deputy prime minister then possibly the same system with the top two selected.
Another novelty to the system:
Firstly, the system is electronically counted. This means the votes are not anonymous. I don’t know much about this subject, but the security community at large have basically said they’re unable to come up with an anonymous electronic voting system that isn’t trivially compromised. They are private, but the information exists and is centrally stored to link a vote back to a voter.
Additionally, complete anonymized vote data is published, and subject to random checks for accuracy, so the counts can be replicated by anyone.
Why is such electronic counting necessary? Well, partly because you’re voting for the entire house of representatives, so a physical user interface is somewhat prohibitive and you need electronic mechanisms of voting (this isn’t really true: You could have a ledger mapping each candidate to an ID and write the ID on a piece of paper. If it proves prohibitively difficult to build safe voting mechanisms even if the count is electronic this could be done, but it’s a much larger amount of work for voters, sensitive to handwriting and harder to count).
But more importantly is the innovation I like most about this design (other than the prerequisites for voting): There are no elections. Voting is a continuous process. You cast your vote and it remains in force until you choose to change it or are no longer eligible for the vote. You will be periodically asked to confirm that it is your vote and ask whether you’d like to change it. If a politician behaves in a way you regard as inappropriate you may immediately change your vote. Your vote always matters, because it is always in force and always subject to your control – there is no temptation to rest on your laurels and go “Ok, I’ve voted. I don’t need to do my community service now”.
When a candidate enters the top 100 another one is automatically booted out (by construction). There is a grace period for them to wrap up affairs (and possibly campaign to regain their position during that time) – otherwise there’s far too much volatility in the lower end of the House – and then their replacement comes in.
I also rather like the idea of having league tables which you can see politicians and candidates moving up and down in them according to current popularity.
There are definitely some downsides to this: The biggest one is that a candidate has a really strong incentive to only make popular decisions (which tend to be short-term gains in nature). I don’t know what to do about that. I hope the fact that the populace is better informed and that it requires at least a modicum of work to change your vote will help offset this. Also if you’re already quite high in the ranking then it’s harder to lose the vote so you’ve got more flexibility to make long-term decisions.
Edit: On discussion with Dave, an alternative and less fickle system is to have fixed terms and run annual elections for a fraction of the electorate. e.g. have everyone on a 5 year term and every year hold a vote for 20 of the candidates each year. I am undecided how I feel about this system, but it does retain some of the advantages of the above while being possibly less chaotic.
Representatives and candidates
One of the major problems with current representation is that, well, you have to be fairly rich to do it. I think this needs to be discouraged.
I think the easiest way to fix this is probably to make it easier for people who are not ridiculously wealthy to run. As such I’d like to propose the following program:
Anyone who wishes to may apply for candidacy aid. They must have 1000 signatures supporting their candidacy. They will now be paid a reasonable wage (probably hovering somewhere around population median) to campaign as a candidate. They have one year, during which they must demonstrate they are actively campaigning, to achieve some number of votes (maybe 10k?). If they achieve that they may continue on candidacy aid for as long as their vote remains above that number (possibly with some fixed maximum time period, or requiring demonstrating an annual increase).
It’s probably not enough, but it should be a good start.
Like I said, this is probably poorly thought out, but it contains ideas I think are good and may well be refineable into something actually worthwhile. Thoughts?