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We Only Need 10,000 Voters

There are currently 245 million eligible voters in the US, what if cut that down to 10,000?

What if we conducted this process completely at random?

My tongue-in-cheek defense is that US Presidential Elections are currently decided by just 538 voters in the Electoral College, so this would represent nearly a 20x increase in suffrage.

More seriously, here are 4 arguments in favor of the 10,000 random voter scheme.

1. It’s unlikely to return different results
The easiest criticism of the 10,000 Voter proposal is that it leaves too much to chance.

Let’s do some quick simulations.

Assume there are 10,000 voters with the same preferences as 2016, 46.1% for one candidate, and 48.2% for the other. What are the odds of accidentally electing the less popular candidate?

odds = 48.2 / (46.1 + 48.2)
trials = 1000
voter_counts = [10**2, 10**3,10**4,10**5,10**6]
for voter_count in voter_counts:
  wins = 0
  for trial in range(trials):
    wins += sum([
      1 if random.random() < odds else 0
      for i in range(voter_count)
    ]) > voter_count/2.0

The results are:

Voters % Wins by Majority Candidate
100 56.4%
1000 76.8%
10,000 98.1%
100,000 100%
1,000,000 100%

Of course, this depends on margins, but 46.1% to 48.2% is already a very close race. With just 10,000 voters, you have around a 98% of elections choosing the candidate with the most supporters.

In comparison, our current system has only elected the candidate who wins the popular vote in 53 out of 58 elections, or 91% of the time.

2. Save 57 million hours
A report on the 2016 election found that “the median and average times spent at polling locations are 14 and 19 minutes, respectively”. Since there were 136.7 million votes cast, that means 43.3 million hours spent voting.

That doesn’t even include commuting. Another paper found “the average residential parcel has a distance of .356 mile to its polling place”, so it’s more like a 6 minute round trip, plus 19 minutes in line, for a cost of 57 million hours.

3. Reduce racial disparities
Even more disturbingly, the same paper finds that:

…a 1-standard deviation (.245 mile) increase in distance to the polling place reduces the number of ballots cast by 2% to 5%

Additionally, the first report highlights racial disparities in waiting times, stating:

…relative to entirely-white neighborhoods, residents of entirely-black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote.

At a very rough estimate, that corresponds to an additional 5.5 minutes. Which is around .9 miles at a residential speed of 10mph, or around 3.7 standard deviations of distance to polling place, for a drop of around 6%-15%. Again, this is extremely rough, it may not scale linearly.

Even ballparking these figures, it suffices to say that seemingly minor logistical issues can impose a tremendous cost.

4. Voters are motivated to take their privilege seriously
In 1789, the US was a democracy, but only to a privileged few. Though states differed, suffrage was generally limited to white male landowners who comprised a mere 6% of the population. At the time, the US population was around 4 million, so the voting class comprised a mere 240,000 people.

Of that 6%, only 20% actually made it to the polls (others had appointed electors), leading to a country of 4 million electing John Adams in 1796 with a mere 35,726 votes.

It’s easy to imagine how those lucky enough to vote might be endowed with a sense of responsibility, privilege, and even pride.

In contrast, voting as one of over 100 million people today, I feel helpless. Even if you’re lucky enough to live in a swing state, Andrew Gelman puts your odds of influencing the election at just 1 in 10 million.

This results in extremely low voter turnout, but also in an unwillingness to take one’s privilege seriously, and invest time in a deep understanding of the issues at stake.

Imagine instead that you were chosen as 1 of just 10,000 voters across the entire country. Your odds of influencing the election would skyrocket, and motivated by a sense of deep privilege, it’s difficult to imagine casting that vote as automatically as many voters to under the current system.

Instead of a despondent morass, we would get 10,000 Americans imbued with the responsibility to represent their country.