Random Recall and Direct Democracy
Government in an internet-connected society
In 1933, the 20th amendment to the US Constitution moved the presidential Inauguration Day from March 4th to January 20th. There were multiple reasons for narrowing the gap between Election Day and Inauguration Day, but one was technological: it no longer took months to count ballots, notify winners, and relocate members of Congress to Washington.
When the internet started to be available in people’s homes, there were questions about whether it would be useful for online voting, direct democracy and Pirate Parties, and other experiments. Based on what’s succeeded so far and what’s been hacked, I couldn’t say that our government is significantly more free or responsive, nor is there a particular high-tech solution which they could be implementing.
Democracy in 2016
After ‘Brexit’ and Trump’s victory in 2016, many voters were concerned about whether their country had made the right decision. Some didn’t even know if they had made the right decision personally:
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Despite regrets, confusion, and dropping approval ratings, voters don’t have a way to back out of decisions or recall government officials except in rare cases. New referendums and special recall votes are too expensive to take seriously— $2.6 million was a recent estimate for counties which may recall a California state senator.
We hear about voters being unhappy with their candidates, or unable to make it to the polls due to stringent requirements by their local government. Vote-by-mail and similar programs to make voting easier are politicized (I believe unfairly) and not necessarily improving turnout:
Voting only by mail can decrease turnout. Or increase it. Wait, what?
Voting by mail - and only by mail - has become an option in the United States. Will it spread? According to the…
The issue with direct democracy or online voting is that it would only worsen problems of voter fatigue, uninformed and ‘disinformed’ decision-making, and bias in voter turnout.
Most counties in the United States can select a few registered voters at random for ‘jury duty’. As a thought experiment, imagine that this is a national database. Every day the Federal Election Commission generates a random number through trustworthy means, contacts that voter directly by phone or internet, and asks, “should the President of the United States leave office in ten days and be replaced by the Vice President?”
They answer: “yes.”
Of course, listening to one random voter and acting immediately is chaos, and their answer is not guaranteed to be serious. So on the following day, the FEC contacts a second random voter and asks, “should the President leave office in nine days?” In this future America, 50% of voters want to see a new president, so there is only a 25% chance that two voters both answer “yes” and take the decision to a third voter. Whenever a voter disagrees with the recall, the count resets (to make calculations easier, assume it restarts at the end of the full 10-day period).
- In a 50–50 America, there’s only a 1/1024 chance (less than 0.1%) that one 10-member poll will end in recalling the president.
- There are ~1,461 days in a four-year presidential term, so a 10-member poll can only happen 146 times in a term.
- I estimate (1023/1024)¹⁴⁶ = 86.7% chance that the president of a 50–50 America stays in office for a full term in a secret poll, where even the last voter is unaware that the president is about to be recalled by their vote.
- In reality, in the 1/64 chance that six consecutive voters expressed a lack of confidence in the president, there would be serious public discussion and concern. The 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th voters can decide to be a ‘circuit breaker’. Even if they dislike the president, they may leave the decision up to a resignation, impeachment, or a Cabinet vote.
- The random voters shouldn’t be held publicly responsible for recalling the government, but should feel responsible when casting their vote. So by ‘firing squad rules’, there should be ~5 voters called per day, and only one unknown respondent be the counted vote. This also allows the program to succeed even if it is difficult to quickly poll voters.
Has a variation of random recall been practiced in any small group, committee, or local government? Please let me know what you think.