By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections

By John Gastil | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Citizen Panels Proposal

[In] a neighborhood where the quiet kids are being bullied by a few big kids, … there are all kinds of rules parents and teachers can adopt to try to restrain the big kids, but if the neighborhood is a fairly free and open place, these are going to have limited success. Bullies are very inventive in how to get their way when the only thing to restrain them is a set of rules enforced by parents and teachers…. The key lies in getting the quiet kids to find a way to band together and take care of themselves.

Ned Crosby, “Citizens Election Forum: A Proposal for Electoral Reform”

A successful reform of the U. S. political system must deal with the “bullies” in Crosby's analogy. Citizens need a mechanism that ensures relatively quick and decisive electoral action against unrepresentative officials. Chapter 4 explained why current reform proposals for American politics would not meet that need. Radical changes in the voting system might better incorporate minority publics, but they would not facilitate better overall representation. Public financing and term limits might make elections more competitive, but they would not improve voters' candidate evaluations. Regulations on the messages candidates send to voters are either unenforceable or unconstitutional, and efforts to provide voters with neutral guides have not gone far enough to change fundamentally how citizens vote.

This chapter proposes an electoral innovation that effectively helps “the quiet kids” to take care of themselves on election day. But, following Crosby's metaphor, the electorate first needs a way to band together. So long as the public's voice is barely a whisper, both public officials and citizens themselves will have difficulty acting upon it. 1 Chapter 5 showed that conventional forms of public expression do not create a democratic public voice, but the experiments in public deliberation reviewed in chapter 6 suggest how one might develop. Between

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