As it stands, our system chooses very weird people—specifically, the kind of people who think that being in Congress sounds fun. “It is impossible by elections to choose normal people,” argues Yoram Gat, an Israeli software engineer with a PhD in statistics. Gat is one of the founders of Equality-by-lot, a popular sortition blog. “Normal people are kind of anonymous,” Gat told The Daily Beast. “In a large society, there is just no way, no theoretical way, to choose, to elect, normal people.”
Really, sortition strikes at the tension at the heart of elective representative democracy. Legislators are supposed to represent us. At some level, this means that they’re supposed to be like us. But the very process of election tends to favor unusual, extraordinary people—what Bernard Manin calls “the principle of distinction.” So we end up with professional politicians, type-A go-getters, and electoral dynasties. When they campaign, these contenders try to seem as normal as possible, and as extraordinary as possible, all at the same time. It’s an awkward balancing act. They often just sound like robots.
What would have happened, last Tuesday, if we had allowed sortition to determine the make up the 114th House of Representatives? The group would be almost evenly split between men and women, for one thing. It would be less wealthy, less educated, and less white than the gang that will show up in Washington in January. Its members would not be beholden to any special interest groups, at all, for their selection. For better or for worse, only a few of them would be lawyers. A whole lot more of them would be under the age of 40.