26 March 2008

Duties Of Jurors vs Duties Of Voters

In the thread about McCain twice almost switching over to the Democrats, DRJ brought up a great point:

Juries make decisions for all sorts of reasons - some logical, some  cockamamie, and sometimes a little of both.  However, in my experience, they almost always end up doing the right thing even if it's for the wrong reason.  I look at voting the same way.

I spend so much time over at Patterico's because the quality of both the posts and the comments is so high (despite my own sometimes inane contributions).  I thought about DRJ's comment for quite a while before responding.  Afterwards, I decided that a new thread was probably the best avenue to get further opinions from the (extremely discerning) few people who come here semi-regularly, along with maybe some informed opinions from any casual passersby (hello and welcome).  Comments are always welcomed and encouraged.

Here is what I wrote back:

I don't disagree with anything you're saying and believe it's completely compatible with what I said above. Juries are presented with both physical and circumstantial evidence which they combine with their own experience and knowledge to render a verdict. Voters are presented with both a candidate's record and their campaign platform which they combine with their own experience and knowledge to decide their vote.

I would have a problem with any juror who rendered their verdict based solely on the defendant's nationality, race, gender, etc... anything beyond the physical and circumstantial evidence and their understanding of the law. I expect the same from a voter.

You are absolutely correct that juries do the right thing more often than not. They are also cautioned prior to deliberating that a responsible juror renders their verdict in good faith, not based on any preconceived stereotype of the defendant. Shouldn't voters receive the same caution? That's the point of my rant above. If someone honestly believes that voting for McCain is the best use of their franchise, they have my unreserved support. If they're voting for him because he's the "only white guy running", they deserve nothing but contempt.

I don't like crossover voting to influence another party's candidate, nor do I like party-line votes just because "I'm a Democrat/Republican", so I don't do it. If somebody else chooses to, that's their choice. I'm just throwing out my reasons for being against it for whatever worth they believe my opinion holds. Barring some kind of brokered convention miracle, I am not going to like whoever wins in November. Tough cookies for me, but I'll be fine... the military lived on cookie crumbs during Clinton's administration and survived.

Despite what people say about McCain now, our military is going to be getting some more crumbs even if he's elected. That will be the "bipartisan" bone he throws to try and placate the Dems. I don't think we'll have a chance to see if that's correct though, because once the Dems decide a nominee, we're going to see a media blitz against McCain that makes Bush Derangement Syndrome seem mild. We've got at least four years of "Socialist Lite" coming and I'm hoping that the phrase "It took a Carter to give us a Reagan" has some truth to it.

I decided to make this a fresh post because I'm really interested in whether this opinion is shared by others, or if there are any flaws in my reasoning.  Whether you agree or disagree, feel free to share that and your own reasoning.  I've said before, this election year has been as divisive as any I can remember.  If we're not discussing things, we're not finding common ground and will remain divided.

Posted by: Stashiu3 at 01:45:31 | Comments (9) | Add Comment
Post contains 616 words, total size 4 kb.

1 My own personal impression is that voters don't take the same effort to make a correct decision as jurors. 
1) People take a decision more seriously if they are one of twelve peopel deciding the guilt or innocence of a person in front of them than if they are one of several million casting a vote to decide the person who will decide for them for the next x number years what to do about whatever problems that come up, foreseeable or unforeseeable.
And note how liable juries in civil trials are to vote their emotions, and not according to the facts.
2) Jurors are at least minimally vetted to get rid of people who decide solely on the basis of race, etc. alone.  And when that sort of person does get on the jury, he or she already knows he's not supposed to decide that way.
Then there is the quality of information.   In a trial, at least one side will be attempting to get the information the jury needs to make a decision in front of the jury.   In an election, that is, in our days at least, not the case. In fact, the people who run campaigns seem to go on the theory that the less facts and more emotion they can latch onto, the better.

Also, there is a difference between deciding as a juror and deciding as a voter based on ethnic/religious/gender/party  factors: in an election, where information is lacking, they provide  a very rough guide to what can be expected of the candidates.   For instance, if you are presented with a Democrat and a Republican about whom you know nothing, you can at least make a reasonable guess that the Republican will have more views that accord with yours and make more decisions that would you would agree with, than the Democrat.
I'm Jewish.   For most of my life, I voted for Jewish candidates in an election where I wasn't familiar with the candidates, not because they were co-religionists of mine, but because I could reasonably guess that, coming from the same general background, they would decide things the way I would decide if I was in that position.  And since my political views transformed into libertarian, I've stopped voting for Jewish candidates because I can reasonably assume their opinions are too leftist for my liking.

Posted by: kishnevi at 26 March 2008@10:47:49 (aOQZ3)

2 I am not as convinced that voters do the right thing more often than not, partly for the reasons that kishnevi gives. But also because sometimes they are not presented with the best options. Let me explain.

Jurors are generally presented with their legal options for verdicts be they criminal or civil (let's ignore the juror propensity to overdo punitives). So they know that the options they're deciding between are constrained by the law and the facts of the case. That gives their decision legitimacy no matter what they choose. You don't often find jurors who have to "hold their nose and vote."

Voters, on the other hand, are often presented with choices that are less than satisfactory. Yes, there is always going to be a "most right" or "least evil" option, but that is small consolation for many people. They may also be aware of candidates or initiatives that didn't make it to the ballot. That changes their behavior and not always for the better. Indifference is a serious problem for voters.

However, the key difference between voters and jurors (and forgive me if someone wrote this in the earlier discussion, I'm just coming in now off of doubleplusundead's link) is that jurors do not have a direct stake in the outcome. In fact, the link between a juror and the outcome of a specific case is intentionally attenuated. That is not necessarily the case when it comes to voters. They often have a personal stake, either because they gave money to a candidate or cause or because a specific candidate or initiative promises to impact their life in a specific way. That does not always lead to smart voting (I'm thinking of single-issue voters as an example).

Posted by: Gabriel Malor at 26 March 2008@13:44:04 (9wqGc)


kishnevi, very good points about the differences between them.  I would note that a responsible voter should have more information than just the candidates party affiliation or they're not all that responsible.  Getting the information out there reliably is going to be the problem (as you said) because so much dirty campaigning goes on... with and without the campaign's knowledge.

Gabriel, welcome... thanks for coming.  If that self-interest predominates in a majority of voters for a particular election, then they will likely win.  If it impacts negatively on enough others, they will organize enough to win a majority the next election.  You're always going to have disinterested, selfish, and/or ignorant voters (unfortunately) who don't vote responsibly.  I agree with DRJ that they're usually a minority though... the others are just too pigheaded to see it my way. 

Posted by: Stashiu3 at 26 March 2008@20:36:31 (tarqT)

4 It certainly is nice to have someone carefully read and respond to what I said.  I'm flattered, Stashiu.

Now that I've gone out on a limb and compared voters with juries, I want to note one difference.  Voters have access to all sorts of relevant and decidedly irrelevant information about the people they vote for. If they want, voters can find out about a politician's platform on the issues as well as his or her family, friends, upbringing, church, work, and financial dealings.  Voters can gossip about politicians, watch them on TV, read about them in the newspaper, and even talk about them with people who aren't voters.

On the other hand, juries only hear what the court lets them hear and it's never the "whole picture" because the only evidence they hear is that which is relevant to the charges that have been filed.  Nevertheless, juries still take many different factors into account in making their decisions.  In a hypothetical criminal case, jurors listen to the evidence but they also notice the defendant's actions and appearance, his/her attorney's actions and appearance, and even what the defendant's family members are like.  Juries notice what the judge does and what the prosecutor does, and they use their common sense.

Now to the meat of the discussion:  Unless a juror or a voter is truly and completely biased against a particular race or religion, I think it's extremely rare that s/he bases their decision solely on one issue. In some ways, it's like the internet.  I don't know what anyone really looks like or if they are what they seem to be or what they say they are.  People don't know if I'm what I appear to be or say I am, either.  But as we get to know each other, we can and do make judgments and those judgments are based on a range of factors and not just one thing.

Even in relatively short jury trials, there is a bonding process that also works that way.  That's why jury consultants aren't consistently helpful.  You may know certain facts about a potential juror's background, but how those facts combine into one person and whether you can successfully use those facts to predict what that person will do is a completely different matter.  As individuals, people aren't as predictable as some may think.

Of course, groups of people can be predictable but they have to be large groups of people.  For instance, I can generally predict how my fellow Texans will vote and even how certain cities will vote, but they aren't always predictable and on an individual basis they might really surprise me.

Bottom line:  I agree with to the extent people vote (as citizens or as  jurors) based solely on one discriminatory factor, but they don't.  People are much more complicated than that.

Posted by: DRJ at 26 March 2008@22:00:39 (wE7Og)

5 Sorry, I omitted a couple of words in my last sentence.  It should read:

Bottom line:  I agree with your point to the extent people vote (as citizens or as  jurors) based solely on one discriminatory factor, but they don't.  People are much more complicated than that.

Posted by: DRJ at 26 March 2008@22:03:47 (wE7Og)

6 I said my piece on what motivates people.  Now I want to address your remaining points.

Maybe I've been a lawyer too long or I've tried one too many cases before a jury, but I what I learned from those experiences is that you have to live with the results, whatever they are.  (That's probably why my approach is more pragmatic than ideological.)  In other words, if you win a jury trial or a political vote, don't worry if some jurors or voters decided in your favor for the wrong reasons. Here's why:

One of the beauties of 6 or 12-member juries and also of mass voting is that the system doesn't require perfection.  If all trials were decided by a judge, it would really matter if the judge was biased or corrupt.  Multi-person juries makes it much harder for bias or corruption to taint the process.  Yes, it's true one juror might base his or her decision on a questionable or even discriminatory reason, but the chances that all of them will is remote in today's system.  I think the same is true of voting.  Whatever imperfections there are will probably be canceled out by the numbers and the diversity of opinions.

When it comes down to it, I think your post is about deciding at what point the perfect is the enemy of the good.  For a lot of people, McCain, Clinton, and Obama are so imperfect that they don't want to participate.  For others, one or other of these candidates is good enough, while still other people think a specific candidate is perfect.  Overall, I think it balances out. 

Finally, FWIW, I don't believe in the theory that the pendulum has to swing far to the left in order for another Reagan to appear.  A Reagan-like candidate doesn't happen because people suddenly decide they want a conservative. Good conservative candidates have to be developed.  The GOP needs more grassroots work to bring candidates into the field, the cream will rise to the top, and the voters will respond.

Posted by: DRJ at 26 March 2008@23:35:44 (wE7Og)


I think the same is true of voting.  Whatever imperfections there are will probably be canceled out by the numbers and the diversity of opinions.

I also think this is usually true in large-scale elections. 

Everyone has made excellent points and I think the voter vs juror analogy works well for certain points but breaks down in others as kishnevi and Gabriel noted.  I appreciate the feedback.

Like DRJ, I don't think it's true the country has to swing far left to get a Reagan... I just hope it's true in this case.  I'm certain a lot of conservatives are going to be pretty disappointed with the next administration and hope there are some who will step up because of it.  I'll admit that I'm not one of them because I don't want to be a public figure.  Nor do I have the patience needed to be a good politician (if that's not an oxymoron these days).

Thanks again everyone, sorry the response took so long.  I'm staying with my Dad who just had surgery, my wife and I just had our 23rd wedding anniversary (same day as Dad's surgery), and my youngest daughter's birthday is today... so it's been busy here.


Posted by: Stashiu3 at 28 March 2008@14:28:25 (tarqT)

8 A surgery, anniversary and birthday all at once is quite a handful.  I hope everything went well for your Dad and best wishes to your family.

Posted by: DRJ at 29 March 2008@21:07:45 (wE7Og)

9 Thank you.  I'm staying with Mom & Dad because it's too hard for Mom to take care of him.  Fortunately, we only live a few blocks away (planned that way, we bought them a house here and moved them close).  I'll be here full-time at least a week, then come by daily for a month or so to help out during the day.  This is his second major surgery since November, but I expect he'll do well from this point.

Nice to be retired and able to spend the time.  My wife and kids come over often, so everybody's pretty happy with the arrangements. 

Posted by: Stashiu3 at 29 March 2008@21:21:45 (tarqT)

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