OPINION | Abolish USG elections now


Abolish USG elections now

Robert Chumbley, Contributing Writer

When most of us think of democratic elections, we initially think of a first-past-the-post system where voters select a single candidate for a single office, and the winner is the one with the most votes. This same, ultra-American system is used in Tulane’s Undergraduate Student Government elections. 


There is no intrinsic quality that FPTP possesses that makes it necessary for a functioning democratic institution. In fact, plenty of democratic organizations get by without it. More than that, though, there is nothing that makes even elections themselves necessary to a functioning student government. To the contrary, elections fail to formally promote cognitive diversity.

Elections are detrimental to the establishment of diversity of thought in any given student government. Cognitive diversity is more important to the success of political leadership than relying solely on demographic diversity, which can potentially foster differences in thinking but does not guarantee it.

When individuals with varying opinions interact, these relationships are more conducive to innovation and the development of problem solving abilities. Given that cognitive diversity and the ensuing boon to collective problem solving should be a higher priority than the maintenance of elections for traditional-ideological purposes, Tulane ought to replace USG elections with sortition, the random selection of individuals for offices.


The reason for that logical jump may not be intuitively obvious, but the fact is that random allotment of political offices promotes cognitive diversity and improves problem solving ability.  

Random selection does not produce a mob of unqualified commoners. In truth, those who object to sortition on the basis of “lack of qualification” are effectively dividing the population into commoners and elites, the former of whom deserve to be managed and the latter of whom deserve to manage by virtue of their special “qualifications,” whatever those are alleged to be. 

The qualification objection is a clever obfuscation of a more fundamental claim of elitism. Sortition, on the other hand, is congenial to those outside of elite power structures, as it formally allocates to them a probability of participation in the highest political offices. It is this formal, built-in probabilism that gives sortition its unique strengths as a political selection system.


The superiority of sortition over election extends beyond just the broadening of cognitive diversity. Sortition is also inherently fairer than election. The institution of election is biased toward individuals with large social networks. On that same note, if Tulane sets the pool of selectable individuals as the entire student body, then every student has a truly equal chance at serving in the USG.

There are specifics that must be ironed out, such as what the pool of selectable individuals should be for each office. In particular, the president could be randomly selected from only a very limited pool of individuals predetermined through some sort of nomination process. It may be an undue burden on the student body to assign everyone a chance at being selected president. Even given these areas for negotiation and tinkering, it remains that sortition in any form would increase the fairness and deliberative competence of the USG.


Tulane’s USG relies, as it stands, on passé notions of qualification and the moral rectitude of elections in and of themselves. Elections are instrumentally good in some respects. However, sortition is significantly better than elections in the production of fairness and diversity. The integration of sortition into the electoral process will ensure the continued relevance and success of the Tulane USG in years to come.

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