Choosing citizens by lottery: recipe for disaster?

The Washington Citizen’s Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials chooses half its 20 members by lottery. At first glance this seems crazy—how can you ensure a good outcome without selection criteria? Read Liz Heath’s interesting account.

Liz HeathGuest post by Liz Heath of Sound Nonprofits

For eight years I was fortunate to serve as an appointed member of the Washington Citizen’s Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. The Commission is made up of both appointed and randomly selected members. The latter group is selected by a lottery—drawing of names from registered voters in each of the ten Congressional Districts in the State.

As you can imagine it is a very disparate group with widely ranging characteristics, political views, and perspectives. What never ceased to amaze me was what a productive, well-functioning group it is. Mutual respect is high, and all members listen to each other and take all perspectives into consideration. Yes, there are debates about what should be done, but, in the end, the majority “rules,” and everyone accepts and respects the final decisions. How wonderful it would be if all decision-making groups could function in this way.

Why does the lottery work?

I attribute much of this culture to those who have led the Commission in the past and who have established the norms that guide each session. You can begin to create this kind of history now to sustain your organization as time goes by. The characteristics are: commitment to the best outcome, willingness to listen, openness to different ideas, acceptance that others have valuable wisdom, and a desire for good results (which always encompass multiple perspectives).

This experience reaffirmed my faith in our democratic institutions.

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.