Stochastic Democracy, An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Recently, a member of the Virginia house of delegates was chosen randomly after a tie vote. Commenters have generally taken different positions on this. The first is that its an amusing quirk of the American political system which shows the republican virtues we uphold. The second is that a country where the outcome of a minor election comes down to a coin flip isn’t a serious country.

I take a third approach: that this sort of thing is something we should see more of. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s a crazy idea, flipping coins isn’t the basis for a legitimate government.” You’d be right in saying that, mostly because I’m skeptical of universal sufferage, but also because I think the system should be somewhat more sophisticated than mere coin flips.

I call my system “stochastic democracy”. Stochastic is a word used to describe something that is determined through randomness. This randomness, however, is a reflects the distribution of opinions within the electorate. Rather than a system where the person with 50%+1 votes automatically wins, or the person with a plurality of votes wins, I think that each vote should be an entry into a random lottery. When 60% of the voters support Candidate A, Candidate A has 60% of the opportunities in the lottery.

My big caveat is that I don’t think people should be voting directly on statewide or nationwide offices. Members of the House of Representatives should be the limit of electoral power under any voting scheme, majority-based or stochastic. The United States was founded with appointed Senators and an electoral college. As Americans, we should be voting on local government, state legislature, the House of Representatives and members of the Electoral College. State governors stand at an odd point that I don’t have a definite opinion on, but I just want to make it clear I’m not advocating for the President to be chosen randomly. I’m just advocating the people who choose him to be chosen randomly.

Another common complaint about stochastic democracy will ask about the possibility of electing fringe candidates. In a stochastic democracy, the Libertarians will probably win a few seats in the House of Representatives. Each representative probably won’t hold their seat for more than a term, but there will be a consistent libertarian group in Congress. That’s part of the beauty of a stochastic democracy. Each individual race has a high degree of randomness, but the representative body that results from that randomness will do a better job of representing the shape of the electorate.

As far as the problem of the Mickey Mouse voters, I would simply point you towards my previously mentioned skepticism of universal sufferage.

People who study group choice theory are quick to point out the problems with plurality or run-off voting. Many of these problems are solved with stochastic democracy.

The first problem stochastic democracy solves is tyranny of the majority. A party that holds a majority can no longer expect to consistently win elections. They have to share power with the minority on occasion, depending on the size of that majority. This conditions both people and politicians to treat turnover and seats changing between parties as natural and a part of the political system, rather than a horrible cataclysm.

Additionally, long-term incumbency would be impossible in stochastic democracy. If you get a 75% majority every election, you will still end up losing the election once every four times. That helps to make political office feel more like a transient state that one serves in for a few years, rather than a career destination.

Likewise, stochastic democracy encourages more potential candidates to run for office in districts that are solidly for one party or another. In a stochastic democracy, a candidate that can summon 30% support has a chance at winning the election. This encourages people to go out and compete for votes, even if they don’t think they can get a majority.

Similarly, stochastic democracy encourages a wide variety of candidates. A fringe party with 5% support is a long-shot in a stochastic democracy, but they have a shot at a term in office nevertheless. This encourages the proliferation of a large set of diverse candidates, all with a long shot at winning.

Stochastic democracy also eliminates the reasons for gerrymandering. Creating districts that have 60% party affiliation doesn’t guarantee seats the way it does in a majority system. In fact, mathematically, stochastic democracy makes district lines irrelevant to the party affiliation of the resulting candidates. Each voter has an equal chance of selecting the winning candidate no matter which district they are in. Taking someone from one district and putting them in another district balances out in probability terms.

Finally, stochastic democracy makes voter fraud much less effective. An additional 100,000 votes for one candidate could have swung many states in the 2016 elections, but in a stochastic democracy, these votes would have merely moved the resulting odds. While unacceptable in either context, stochastic democracy requires the manipulation of relatively large numbers of votes to influence the outcome of a tight race compared to a majority contest, and even then, they would only be changing the odds, not changing the outcome.

All of these reasons lay out a solid case for an impractical idea. Stochastic democracy is an idea that can only be accepted by someone who doesn’t believe in democratic civil myths, and those people ultimately care more about the makeup of the electorate, rather than the electoral system.

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