By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections

By John Gastil | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Electoral Experimentation

One of the imperative needs of democratic countries is to improve citizens' capacities to engage intelligently in political life…. In the years to come older institutions will need to be enhanced by new means for civic education, political participation, information, and deliberation that draw creatively on the array of techniques and technologies available in the twenty-first century. We have barely begun to think seriously about these possibilities, much less to test them out in small-scale experiments.

Robert Dahl, On Democracy

It has been my intention to put forward the most persuasive case possible for instituting citizen panels at every level of government in the United States. In chapters 7 and 8, I outline the details and virtues of the panels to persuade skeptics of their potential. I have argued that the panels could produce sound judgments, influence voters, change the nature of elections, improve relations between representatives and their constituencies, and, ultimately, spur the development of public policy that serves the enlightened interests of the larger public. If successful, the panels would bring the American political system much closer to the ideal model of representative democracy outlined in chapter 2.

In reality, the panels would surely fall short of that ideal. Political reformers must always acknowledge that their proposals can not make an imperfect world perfect. Moreover, a self-conscious reformer must remember that tomorrow will improve upon today's reform. I share the view of Hannah Pitkin, who explains that the tension between ideal and achievement in representative government “should present a continuing but not hopeless challenge: to construct institutions and train individuals in such a way that they engage in the pursuit of the public interest, the genuine representation of the public; and, at the same time, to remain critical of those institutions and that training, so that they are always open to further interpretation and reform. 1

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