David Schecter wrote to point out an article in the Canadian Globe and Mail by Arash Abizadeh, a professor of political science at McGill University:
Take electoral reform away from politicians and let citizens decide
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to change the way we elect Parliament. Here’s the problem: letting politicians who won the last election decide future election rules is like letting the team who won the last playoff game decide rules for the next game. There’s an obvious conflict of interest. Electoral rules determine who forms government, and different rules favour different parties.
One solution is a referendum. But the Liberals have ruled this out. Maybe they’re right to do so. Referenda are expensive, few Canadians care much about electoral reform, and fewer still will cuddle up with a treatise on voting systems this Sunday evening. A referendum might be a big waste of money in which few vote and fewer still care to learn about the pros and cons of alternative electoral systems.
But without a referendum, how could electoral reform be legitimized? We need a manifestly fair procedure – a neutral body, unbeholden to politicians, that will reasonably evaluate the alternatives.
Fortunately, political scientists have a solution that fits the bill – a randomly selected citizen assembly. The idea is this: randomly select a few thousand Canadians, ask if they are willing to serve, and, from those saying yes, randomly select 100 to 200 to serve on an assembly empowered to determine federal election rules.
Putting regular citizens in charge may initially seem crazy. Wouldn’t citizens with no special experience or expertise make incompetent decisions? But that’s who decides referenda, too. In fact, Canada is a pioneer in using citizen assemblies to make decisions about voting systems.
We’ve done it twice before, in B.C. and Ontario. Political scientists have studied both cases, and both were in many respects a great success. Once our fellow citizens received expert advice (about voting systems) and consulted the public, they became well informed, and their deliberations and decision-making were extremely competent and reasonable.
No surprise here: it’s well known to social scientists that under the right conditions, there is intelligence in numbers. The decisions of an assembly of regular but diverse individuals are often more intelligent than decisions by a lone genius or expert.