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What if people were drafted to serve in Congress?

Updated on October 2, 2014

You've been drafted!

You've been drafted!

Imagine this scene . . .

You're going through your mail one evening. Among the usual bills and notices, you see an envelope from the Selective Service System.

Is it what you think? Of course you knew it was a possibility. Everybody's been talking about the fact that draft time has rolled around again. But you never imagined it would happen to you. You open the envelope and read . . .

"Greetings. You are hereby directed to present yourself ", etc.

It really is. You're being called up for service in . . . . the United States House of Representatives.

Thoughts run through your mind. Should you try to see if you qualify for any of the exceptions? Maybe you could intentionally try to fail the test?

But no. You take a deep breath and hold your head high. You're an American and this is your duty. You will serve, and you will serve with honor.

(Those seals of the U. S. Congress and the Selective Service are in the public domain.)

Drafting people to be legislators?

The freshmen of the 111th Congress.  Public domain photo.
The freshmen of the 111th Congress. Public domain photo.

In the past, of course, we have drafted American citizens to serve in the military, which is a part of the Executive Branch of our government (Source: The White House).

We also conscribe citizens to participate with the judicial branch of government (jury duty).

What about the legislative branch? What would be the pros and cons of using a draft to staff one of the houses of Congress?

What if the upper house were elected and the lower house were conscripted?

The question that we'll consider on this page is this:

What it would be like if the U. S. Senate remained an elected body, but seats in the House of Representatives were filled on the basis of a draft, drawing from all citizens who met certain standards of ability?

Drafting legislators: The PROs

These are the potential benefits I see that could result from conscripting people to serve in the House:

  • More diversity. Without question, a legislative house made up of inductees would be more representative of our whole population in terms of race, religion, age, and gender.
  • A wider variety of backgrounds. We would have representatives that understand how government policies affect citizens from every possible angle. We might see proposals that don't get much attention from the current crop of legislators.
  • More equal footing. There wouldn't be certain representatives who have been in Congress for 30 years and can always get their way. And those are the legislators who are the most attractive targets for lobbying and bribes.
  • More moderates in Congress. A lot of our current legislators position themselves in an extremely polarizing way in order to win primaries. The majority of Americans are more moderate in their views and would probably be more willing to compromise.
  • The whole thing of endless fundraising for elections would vanish. Drafted legislators would not be dependent on catering to big-time donors.
  • I think it would change the public's view of the legislative branch. Many people think of Congresspeople as dishonest; they wouldn't think that as much if Congress was made up of ordinary folks.
  • People would have an incentive to pay close attention to what the government is doing, knowing that they may be called on to participate.

Drafting legislators: The CONs

How about the potential downside of having draftees serving in the House?

  • Obviously, they would have less experience than elected representatives. We all have some understanding of how our government works, but would we be ready to actually be a part of it?
  • Would the screening mechanisms be good enough to keep out people who are seriously wacko or evil?
  • Would people feel resentful toward the government for taking them away from their regular lives when they were called up to serve?
  • Would people feel intimidated by the responsibility and decide to be as passive as possible, just do nothing and wait out the end of their term?

A little riddle:

If PRO is the opposite of CON, then what is the opposite of PROgress?


Would it be good for the country if we drafted people to be members of Congress?

Assuming that inductees had to meet certain qualifications (just like military inductees have to), would this be a good idea?

If we drafted people to serve in the House of Representatives, would things work better or worse than they do now?


Draft lottery photo from 1969.  Public domain.
Draft lottery photo from 1969. Public domain.

Turns out there's a group that's really trying to make this happen!

The Common Lot:

Next Step for Democracy

Would you serve in Congress if you were called? (Poll for US citizens only, please) - There's a poll right after this for citizens of other countries

If you were drafted to serve in the US Congress, how would you respond?

See results

For citizens of nations other than the USA, would you serve as a legislator in your country if you were "drafted"?

If you were drafted to serve in the lawmaking body of your country, how would you respond?

See results
Cover of sheet music to the song, "America, Here's My Boy". 1917.
Cover of sheet music to the song, "America, Here's My Boy". 1917. | Source

Is any kind of drafting ethical?

Is it ethically acceptable for a country to mandate any form of public service (jury duty, military draft, etc.?)

See results

Justice by lottery?

In this book, author Barbara Goodwin argues that justice would be better served and equality better achieved if lottery systems were used in more areas of public life. She even spins a fanciful vision of a nation where almost everything is administered through random selection.

Justice by Lottery (Women in Culture and Society)
Justice by Lottery (Women in Culture and Society)

A couple of review comments (from Amazon):

"Insistently and acutely challenges readers to say what our moral equality justly demands." -- Eric Rakowski, American Political Science Review

"'Justice by Lottery' will richly repay close reading." -- Noam Zohar, Mind


Your comments are welcome!

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    • lesliesinclair profile image


      6 years ago

      This is an idea that could be valuable to ethics classes

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This idea is being seriously considered in several places.


    • PurplePansy LM profile image

      PurplePansy LM 

      7 years ago

      This is a fascinating idea! A lot to think about.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      7 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      A very thought-provoking and interesting idea. I do wish there was a way to get the influence purchased by multi-national corporations (who pay no US taxes) out of congress, but I don't know how it can be done.

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 

      7 years ago from USA

      Excellent debate topic.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      7 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Very interesting topic for debate!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have to agree with Cab, modifying a bit his position- requiring someone to do something doesn't necessarily mean he has the capacity of doing it.

    • MisterJeremy profile image


      7 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      This is a very thought-provoking lens. As I mentioned above, I don't think a draft would work because lobbyists and bureaucrats would end up writing all of the laws. I do support term limits, however.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Stellar debate lens, Joan. Congratulations for your purple star!

    • sousababy profile image


      7 years ago

      Very interesting lens, I certainly would feel obligated in my country (Canada) to serve in some duties to keep our country free and fair. However, as gypsyman27 and others have said, drafting has never been fair or equitable. Looking at history, I have to agree.

      Congrats on a well deserved purple star!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      7 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Great debate topic! I was thinking that the British House of Lords isn't made up of elected politicians, but people who received/inherited a lordship. Is that so different from a lottery!

    • kerbev profile image


      7 years ago from Upstate, NY

      America is based on rights AND responsibilities. I think requiring participation in certain duties is necessary, however requiring people to serve in congress would be a mockery of the position.

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 

      7 years ago

      Very interesting lens, I am afraid drafting anyone to do anything in this country has never been fair or equitable. See you around the galaxy...


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