Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Brave New World Abstract

As if I haven't been going to enough conferences lately - numbers one and two just gone, three coming soon (Friday) - I spent today putting together a paper and abstract for the Brave New World conference in Manchester at the end of June. Apparently it's usually a good one, so I hope I'm accepted. The paper still needs tidying up, but I'll probably leave that until nearer the time - maybe even wait for acceptance. The abstract (300 words), however, needs to be sent by 30th of April. Here it is (no surprises for guessing the subject):

Lottery-Voting: A Neglected Solution

This paper is an exploration of the idea of ‘lottery-voting’ (Amar 1984, 1995), according to which electoral outcomes should be decided by a randomly selected vote. It is not an argument for using such a method, which would be too large a project. My claim here is merely that lottery-voting’s potential has been neglected, and it deserves more careful consideration.

I demonstrate this through discussion of two recent books in democratic theory, both of which could perhaps be improved by considering lottery-voting. Firstly, I examine Richard Vernon’s Political Morality, which attempts to reconcile liberalism and democracy into a single coherent project rather than competing ideals. I do not engage with this larger aim, but contend that his argument for majority rule is defective, because lottery-voting also leads to decisive outcomes while providing better incentives to generalise appeals to larger numbers of the electorate.

Secondly, I turn to Andrew Rehfeld’s The Concept of Constituency, which proposes replacing territorial constituencies with randomly allocated ones, that each comprise a microcosm of the whole polity. Assuming the desirability of such, I suggest that using lottery-voting, rather than assuming majority rule, would further the author’s aims of encouraging deliberation between diverse viewpoints focused on the common good, because it would ensure a heterogeneous legislature as well as constituencies.

My paper is neither a complete case for lottery-voting – which would require me to address issues of fairness, rationality, procedural rules and outcomes – nor a complete review of these two books. Rather I focus on how lottery-voting shows up – and sometimes solves – various weaknesses and shortcomings in existing democratic theory, illustrated by certain elements of these two works. Whether or not we want ultimately to accept lottery voting, my aim is to demonstrate that its possibilities make it worthy of more serious attention.

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