What if a jury – not voters – decided elections?

Politicians promise more government to lure marginal voters. One solution would be to let a random sample of jurors decide elections.

Toby Melville/Reuters/File
Britain's Prime Minister Brown last month proposed to change the way people are elected to the House of Parliament. Another alternative: Let a jury decide elections, rather than the voters.

To some extent, the exact position of political parties in the polls doesn’t matter. The Conservatives know that an overall majority could still be theirs provided the attention they have lavished on key marginal seats pays off. However, it is not only the local parliamentary candidate’s sweat that is channeled into these constituencies, but also the national party’s time, money, and to a degree, policies.

When a parties’ seat tally relies upon the decision of a few thousand voters, there is always a temptation to trumpet the most ‘centrically appealing’ policy options even the circumstances call for something more radical. This way, they believe, they will not alienate any of the mystical makers and breakers of government: the floating voters. In the case of the Conservatives, this can come across as hesitancy and weakness, result in lower overall public ratings, and even lead to hits in the confidence of international investors.

When courting marginal voters, there is also a disposition to show that in government you will really make a difference to voters’ lives. Unfortunately, the easiest way to do this is to look proactive, by promising that the state will intervene and provide more. In this way, pledges for bigger government are inevitably made.

This is a problem under first-past-the-post, but any constituency based election system would have similar problems. At least with FPTP the ability to firmly throw a party out of power exists.

An interesting alternative, however, was aired by the philosopher Jamie Whyte at The Next Generation meeting earlier this week. His idea was to do away with universal suffrage altogether, and instead see elections decided by a randomly chosen panel of jurors in each constituency; with the decision-making process publicly broadcast Big Brother style. This, he argues, would combat voter ignorance and apathy, while also ensuring political parties put forth sensible ideas that would hold under scrutiny.

Evidently, there is much to argue about with this proposal, yet there is no doubting the irony that as things stand policy is decided on, and political power held by, a small elite in the name of democracy.

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