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Lottery-Selected Politicians? Start Thinking Outside The Ballot Box

An animated picture showing a red and blue wolves circling a white lamb with DEMOCRACY in large letters above

If there is one thing a majority of Americans can agree on, it is that we do not have much trust in our federal government. Congress currently boasts an 19% approval rating and presidential approval has dropped steadily for decades, according to Gallup. Despite these trends, citizens continue rallying around elections with the dream that this time will be different. But did you ever vote for the electoral system itself?

Every four years, we toy with reforms — abolishing the electoral college, ranked choice voting, AI-designed congressional districts, etc. Alex Guerrero wants the U.S. to open its imagination and allow for more creative solutions.

Steve Kornacki of MSNBC pointing at a map of North Carolina
Credit MSNBC
Political systems can feel comfortable, and many take pride in the national ritual of elections. Does that mean electoral representation works?

Host Frank Stasio talks with Guerrero, an associate professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, about whether lottery-selected leaders could improve age-old byproducts of representative democracy, like corruption, responsiveness and representation in government. There is historical precedent for the system. In ancient Greece, randomly selected leaders were considered essential to a fair and representative democracy. You also might recognize the lottery method if you have ever been called for jury duty.

We need to think about the way the system is helping or hurting us from feeling like a community. - Guerrero

European traditions of governance were uncommon outside the continent in the 17th century, now they are considered the status quo and enforced by international standards. In what is now eastern North Carolina, the Tuscarora Nation relied on gender to check and balance political power. Councils of elderly women selected and advised a hierarchy of chiefs. Men were required to give up possessions to assume the powerful position and were always beholden to the advice and ultimate authority of the grandmothers, who could dehorn them at any time and choose a new leader. Stasio discusses the history and power of this system with Arwin Smallwood, professor and chair of history and political science at North Carolina A&T State University.

You have to pick one. And sometimes you have to hold your nose to do it. - Blizzard

But are any of these lessons useful to North Carolina voters today? Rosemary F. Blizzard joins the show to reflect on the challenges and opportunities for reform in our state. Blizzard is the communications director for the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center and a former director for the Wayne and Duplin County Boards of Elections.

A map showing Tuscarora, Nottoway, and Cherokee belonging to the same linguistic group as the Haudenosaunee nations to the north.
Credit University of Richmond
Linguistic stock of the Southeastern portion of the continent, circa 1650. There was regular commerce and diplomacy between the Tuscarora nation and the Haudenosaunee nations to the north.

Grant Holub-Moorman coordinates events and North Carolina outreach for WUNC, including a monthly trivia night. He is a founding member of Embodied and a former producer for The State of Things.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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