election by jury

clay shentrup
3 min readAug 24, 2023

how much do you know about the candidates and issues on the ballot? if you are like most americans, probably not much. according to a recent report by the institute for citizens & scholars, only one in three americans (36 percent) can actually pass a multiple choice test consisting of items taken from the u.s. citizenship test, which has a passing score of 60.

this lack of knowledge has serious consequences for our democracy. voters who are uninformed or misinformed may make decisions based on false or misleading information, emotional appeals, or partisan cues. they may also be more susceptible to manipulation by special interests, propaganda, or misinformation. as a result, they may not vote in their own best interest or the public interest.

what if there was a way to ensure that voters are well-informed and engaged in the electoral process? what if there was a way to make elections more fair, representative, and deliberative? what if there was a way to reduce the influence of money, media, and parties on the outcome of elections?

there is such a way: election by jury. election by jury is a proposal to replace the current system of voting by the general public with a system of voting by a randomly selected and representative sample of citizens, who would serve as jurors. these jurors would hear from the candidates and experts, deliberate among themselves, and cast their votes in secret.

the primary advantage of election by jury is that it would increase the level and quality of information among voters. jurors would have the opportunity to learn about the candidates and issues in depth, to ask questions, to challenge assumptions, and to weigh evidence. they would also have the benefit of hearing diverse perspectives and opinions from their fellow jurors through the process of deliberation. this would make them more informed and rational voters.

but another major advantage of election by jury would be to guarantee a statistically representative sample of the entire electorate, save for the obvious exclusion of people below voting age. american elections currently suffer from dramatic demographic disparities. consider this assessment, from the brennan center for justice.

low turnout is not just a problem of fewer people exercising their right to participate in democracy. low turnout skews the electorate, making it older, richer, and, with the exception of recent presidential elections, whiter than america as a whole. it also fuels political polarization, since the most extreme and partisan voters are also the most frequent voters. this leads to more extreme elected officials who enact public policies that cater more to the voting class than to non-voters.

this isn’t quite the right framing. it’s not that low turnout causes demographic disparities in turnout. rather, it’s the lack of compulsory voting combined with disparities in motivation and/or convenience that drives both the low turnout and the disparities. nevertheless, a statistically random sample of sufficient size completely solves this problem.

election by jury may sound like a radical idea, but it is not without precedent or support. in fact, it is based on the ancient practice of sortition, or the use of random selection to fill public offices, which was widely used in ancient greece and rome, and in some medieval and renaissance city-states. it is also based on the modern practice of jury trial, or the use of random selection to form a panel of citizens who decide the fate of a defendant, which is widely used in the u.s. and other countries.

election by jury also has some empirical evidence and theoretical backing. several experiments and simulations have shown that election by jury can produce more informed, engaged, representative, and deliberative voters than the current system. several scholars and activists have also advocated for election by jury as a way to reform and revitalize democracy.

election by jury is a bold and innovative proposal to improve our democracy. it is a proposal that can address the problem of voter ignorance, and provide a solution that can increase the information, participation, and representation of voters. it is a proposal that can make our elections more fair, representative, and deliberative. it is a proposal that can make our democracy more alive, more responsive, and more accountable.

election by jury is a proposal that deserves our serious consideration and support.

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clay shentrup

advocate of score voting and approval voting. software engineer.