There’s a cure for our toxic politics: replace politicians with everyday people

The Citizens’ Panel on COVID-19 did just that.

Everyday Americans worked together, without playing politics, to find common ground and point a way forward—providing a glimpse of what democracy can and should be.

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This is what democracy really looks like:

People like us, representing us.

Without the parties, campaigns, or BS.

Citizen representatives from America In One Room (2019).
Photos from the New York Times.

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This is what democracy really looks like

People like us representing us.

Without the parties, campaigns, or BS.

Citizen delegates from America In One Room (2019). Photos from the New York Times.

Citizen delegates from America In One Room (2019). Photos from the New York Times.

And we’re starting to see it, thanks to the re-emergence of democratic lotteries

And we’re seeing it, thanks to the re-emergence of democratic lotteries

The original vision for democracy in ancient Athens used lotteries to select representatives, to counter the corruption and division that came with elections. Now democratic lotteries are making a comeback, in response to the distrust and division of modern times. 

“the appointment of magistrates by lot [lottery] is thought to be democratical, and the election of them oligarchical”  – Aristotle

The Citizens’ Panel provided an inspiring glimpse

The Citizens’ Panel provided
an inspiring glimpse

The Citizens’ Panel on COVID-19 worked across political differences to produce a final report of 12 recommendations to guide the response to the pandemic.  

And because these citizen-representatives didn’t have to play politics, they were free to honestly engage with each other and the issues.

As have Citizens' Assemblies around the world

As have Citizens' Assemblies
all around the world

So it’s time to finally turn our country around—by replacing politicians and elections with everyday people and lotteries.

Think about it. Elected politicians have to obey their party, repay their donors, and constantly score political points.

But everyday people selected by lottery don’t owe anything to anyone and can’t run for reelection. So they are free to actually listen to, learn from, and work with each other to address our issues.

Your fellow Americans are on board

“Compared to having elected politicians in Congress, everyday Americans selected in a democratic lottery would be…”

across the political spectrum

The same high percentage of conservatives and liberals embrace this vision—and its even higher among independents.

“I have always dreamed of this type of leadership. The whole game of politics is a ludicrous concept. I would be so honored to serve in this capacity…”

59-year-old liberal woman from the suburban Midwest

“That every voice is heard throughout the nation instead of these politicians who think they can get away with murder and do whatever they want.”

40-year-old politically disinterested man from the urban Midwest

“The idea of truly draining the swamp excites me beyond reason… an actual chance to see what the common citizen can accomplish.”

41-year-old conservative man from the Suburban South

59-year-old liberal woman from the suburban Midwest

40-year-old politically disinterested man from the urban Midwest

41-year-old conservative man from the Suburban South

and our founders would've been on board too.

and our founders would've been on board too (had they known).

“[A legislature] should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”

John Adams, 2nd President
“[The party system] agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption…”

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

But still, you might be wondering…

This is a vision for lawmaking bodies at the local, state, and national level.

And although this vision principally applies to city councils, state legislatures, and Congress, there are also ways to replace partisan primaries for executive positions—like mayor, governor, and president—with lottery-drawn Citizens’ Commissions.

Instead of voters and campaigns, these representative and deliberative bodies of everyday citizens would field, vet, nominate, and possibly even select executive candidates.

From city councils to Congress, lawmaking bodies deal mostly with questions of morals, values, and priorities. How do we want to live together? How should we spend our hard-earned tax dollars? What kind of future do we want for our children?

Answering these questions requires a deep understanding of our communities and our country, and firsthand knowledge of the challenges we face. And when it requires expert knowledge about a specific issue, these citizens can call on expert testimony—just like elected politicians do. Experts can advise, but they shouldn’t decide.

The people who live like us and share the same hopes, dreams, and concerns as us are the ones who are most qualified to truly represent us.

And when it comes to executing policy and running government day-to-day, we do need professional administrators, but there are also promising ways to use lotteries to take parties and politicking out of the selection of mayors, governors, and the president.

Democratic lotteries use proven polling techniques that track the census and the most accurate projections to guide the selection of those picked. This ensures accurate representation across age, gender, geography, income, and race. It creates a true portrait of the population.

We can verify its accuracy just by looking at who gets selected, rather than having to blindly trust faulty and hackable voting booths.

After being selected, the decision to serve would be voluntary. Some may choose to opt-out for whatever reason. For example, they may be running a small business that depends on them. But given our country’s massive population, we can count on there being millions of Americans hoping to get selected and ready to serve.

A minimum age and a restriction against folks who have been convicted of corruption or violent crimes would probably make sense. So might some other basic requirements. We are against qualifications that discriminate and exclude, but ultimately America will have to decide what requirements to put in place.

First, this really doesn’t happen. Citizens’ Panels and Assemblies have shown again and again that when given respect, responsibility, and a chance to listen and learn from one another, people selected by democratic lottery are sensible and civil. And they tend to think passionately about what’s best for everyone.

Second, the large size of legislative bodies, the need to collaborate, and single term limits would mean that extreme views and bad apples wouldn’t make much progress.

Third, for extremely rare cases, there are already rules and procedures on the books that could be maintained and improved to allow the rest of the group to discipline and remove disruptive members.

To start with, no campaigns means no outright buying of representatives.

In addition, one crucial difference that sets this system apart is that since these people represent America simply by being representative of America, they can make their decisions using a secret ballot, just like we do on election day.

This would powerfully defend against corruption once in office by preventing the trading of votes for favors or bribes, the way politicians currently do. Think about it – would you try to bribe someone if you could never confirm if they upheld their end of the deal? It would free our decision makers to truly do what’s right.

Up until this point, those working to advance democratic lotteries have largely focused on convincing politicians of the need for more consultative Citizens’ Panels and Assemblies. As you might imagine, they’ve encountered some resistance along the way. And of the work that has been done, there hasn’t been much in the way of compelling documentation.

In contrast, of by for* is focused on powerfully communicating the promise of this vision for democracy directly to everyday people and taking a true grassroots approach to creating change.

The real goal when selecting representatives in lawmaking bodies is to find people who represent us and our values. A democratic lottery achieves this far better than elections ever can, because it’s real people who look like us and live like us, with no ulterior motives. It’s not out of touch politicians saying whatever, and taking money from wherever, just to win our vote.

Voting could still be used to select executive positions that require specialized skills like mayor, governor or president. Although there are promising ways to use lotteries to take parties and politicking out of that selection process too.

And you're probably wondering how you can get involved

Our mission is to free America from parties and politicians, so we can finally have government that does right by us.

Our mission is to free America from parties and politicians, so we can finally have government that does right by us.

About

About us

We’re a non-partisan, non-profit working to replace politicians with everyday people. That’s it. We don’t take sides on any issues and we don’t take money with strings attached.

We began as a few regular people who’d had enough of our divisive and dysfunctional politics. We want to see America heal its divide and rise to its challenges. We have different views on substantive issues but we’re united in our conviction that government should be of, by, and for the people.

Our core team

Adam Cronkright

Adam has a decade of experience in this field and is on the Coordinating Committee of Democracy R&D, a network of close to 40 organizations advancing democratic lotteries in 18 countries around the world.

Before dedicating himself to of by for*, Adam co-founded Democracy In Practice, whose work reinventing student government with democratic lotteries was a finalist for the Council of Europe’s 2016 Democracy Innovation Award, and was recently featured on Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast.

Adam also brings to of by for* his on-the-ground experience of having been involved in the Occupy Wall St protests and having witnessed the 2019 popular uprising in Bolivia.

Adam Cronkright

Adam has a decade of experience in this field and is on the Coordinating Committee of Democracy R&D, a network of close to 40 organizations advancing democratic lotteries in 18 countries around the world.

Before dedicating himself to of by for*, Adam co-founded Democracy In Practice, whose work reinventing student government with democratic lotteries was a finalist for the Council of Europe’s 2016 Democracy Innovation Award, and was recently featured on Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast.

Adam also brings to of by for* his on-the-ground experience of having been involved in the Occupy Wall St protests and having witnessed the 2019 popular uprising in Bolivia.

George Zisiadis

George has a decade of experience working as an artist and designer leading complex, interdisciplinary projects.

His large-scale public artworks have re-imagined San Francisco’s most iconic public spaces – including Civic Center and Grace Cathedral - and consistently moved people of all ages and backgrounds. His work has been featured in TIME, NPR, WIRED, FastCompany, and more.

In 2018, he set aside his art and design practice to dedicate himself to the study of social movements from past to present.

George Zisiadis

George has a decade of experience working as an artist and designer leading complex, interdisciplinary projects.

His large-scale public artworks have re-imagined San Francisco’s most iconic public spaces – including Civic Center and Grace Cathedral - and consistently moved people of all ages and backgrounds. His work has been featured in TIME, NPR, WIRED, FastCompany, and more.

In 2018, he set aside his art and design practice to dedicate himself to the study of social movements from past to present.

Our advisors

We’re guided by dozens of accomplished specialists in different fields, who bring diverse perspectives and expertise to our work.

Jane Mansbridge
Democratic Theorist
Harvard Kennedy School
James Fishkin
Director of Stanford's
Center for Deliberative Democracy
Lawrence Lessig
Constitutional Scholar &
Anti-Corruption Campaigner
Debilyn Molineaux
Co-founder & Executive Director
Bridge Alliance
Wendy Willis
Executive Director
Deliberative Democracy Consortium
John Pudner
Executive Director
Take Back Our Republic

David Schechter – Democracy R&D

Lynn Carson – newDemocracy Foundation

Yves Dejaeghere – G1000

Chris Ellis – MASS LBP

Terry Bouricius – Vermont House of Representatives (formerly)

Hélène Landemore – Yale University

Brett Hennig – Sortition Foundation

Marcin Gerwin – PhD & Citizens’ Assembly Practitioner

Manuel Arriaga – Fórum dos Cidadãos

Liz Berry Pol.is

Jay Costa – Voters’ Right to Know

Perry Rosenstein – Hustle

Patrick Chalmers – All Hands On

Renn Vara – SNP Communications

Michael Pappas – San Francisco Interfaith Council

Jamie Kelsey-Fry – Extinction Rebellion & New Internationalist

Oscar Olivera – Fundación Abril

Sally Morton – Sunrise Movement

Douglas Atkin – Airbnb & Purpose

Chelsea Robinson – Generation Zero

Rahmin Sarabi – Commonweal

Micah Daigle – Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Our partners

of by for* is an active member of Democracy R&D, an international network of organizations (see map) and individuals working with Citizens’ Panels and other similar processes.

Contact

Contact us

Our mission is to free America from parties and politicians, so we can finally have government that does right by us.

Our mission is to free America from parties and politicians, so we can finally have government that does right by us.

About

About us

We’re a non-partisan, non-profit working to replace politicians with everyday people. That’s it. We don’t take sides on any issues and we don’t take money with strings attached.

We began as a few regular people who’d had enough of our divisive and dysfunctional politics. We want to see America heal its divide and rise to its challenges. We have different views on substantive issues but we’re united in our conviction that government should be of, by, and for the people.

Our core team

Adam Cronkright

Adam has a decade of experience in this field and is on the Coordinating Committee of Democracy R&D, a network of close to 40 organizations advancing democratic lotteries in 18 countries around the world.

Before dedicating himself to of by for*, Adam co-founded Democracy In Practice, whose work reinventing student government with democratic lotteries was a finalist for the Council of Europe’s 2016 Democracy Innovation Award, and was recently featured on Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast.

Adam also brings to of by for* his on-the-ground experience of having been involved in the Occupy Wall St protests and having witnessed the 2019 popular uprising in Bolivia.

Adam Cronkright

Adam has a decade of experience in this field and is on the Coordinating Committee of Democracy R&D, a network of close to 40 organizations advancing democratic lotteries in 18 countries around the world.

Before dedicating himself to of by for*, Adam co-founded Democracy In Practice, whose work reinventing student government with democratic lotteries was a finalist for the Council of Europe’s 2016 Democracy Innovation Award, and was recently featured on Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast.

Adam also brings to of by for* his on-the-ground experience of having been involved in the Occupy Wall St protests and having witnessed the 2019 popular uprising in Bolivia.

George Zisiadis

George has a decade of experience working as an artist and designer leading complex, interdisciplinary projects.

His large-scale public artworks have re-imagined San Francisco’s most iconic public spaces – including Civic Center and Grace Cathedral - and consistently moved people of all ages and backgrounds. His work has been featured in TIME, NPR, WIRED, FastCompany, and more.

In 2018, he set aside his art and design practice to dedicate himself to the study of social movements from past to present.

George Zisiadis

George has a decade of experience working as an artist and designer leading complex, interdisciplinary projects.

His large-scale public artworks have re-imagined San Francisco’s most iconic public spaces – including Civic Center and Grace Cathedral - and consistently moved people of all ages and backgrounds. His work has been featured in TIME, NPR, WIRED, FastCompany, and more.

In 2018, he set aside his art and design practice to dedicate himself to the study of social movements from past to present.

Our advisors

We’re guided by dozens of accomplished specialists in different fields, who bring diverse perspectives and expertise to our work.

Jane Mansbridge
Democratic Theorist
Harvard Kennedy School
James Fishkin
Director of Stanford's
Center for Deliberative Democracy
Lawrence Lessig
Constitutional Scholar &
Anti-Corruption Campaigner
Debilyn Molineaux
Co-founder & Executive Director
Bridge Alliance
Wendy Willis
Executive Director
Deliberative Democracy Consortium
John Pudner
Executive Director
Take Back Our Republic

David Schechter – Democracy R&D

Lynn Carson – newDemocracy Foundation

Yves Dejaeghere – G1000

Chris Ellis – MASS LBP

Terry Bouricius – Vermont House of Representatives (formerly)

Hélène Landemore – Yale University

Brett Hennig – Sortition Foundation

Marcin Gerwin – PhD & Citizens’ Assembly Practitioner

Manuel Arriaga – Fórum dos Cidadãos

Liz Berry Pol.is

Jay Costa – Voters’ Right to Know

Perry Rosenstein – Hustle

Patrick Chalmers – All Hands On

Renn Vara – SNP Communications

Michael Pappas – San Francisco Interfaith Council

Jamie Kelsey-Fry – Extinction Rebellion & New Internationalist

Oscar Olivera – Fundación Abril

Sally Morton – Sunrise Movement

Douglas Atkin – Airbnb & Purpose

Chelsea Robinson – Generation Zero

Rahmin Sarabi – Commonweal

Micah Daigle – Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Our partners

of by for* is an active member of Democracy R&D, an international network of organizations (see map) and individuals working with Citizens’ Panels and other similar processes.

Contact

Contact us