10/18/2012 10:25 am ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

Let's Have Town Halls After the Elections

We were supposed to hear from "the people" Tuesday night, but the questioners at the town hall-style presidential debate were hardly noticed. They were only a supporting cast for Governor Romney, President Obama, and the moderator Cindy Crowley.

With a network of citizens' assemblies in every congressional district, however, there could be citizen-organized town hall meetings on a regular basis.

At these meetings, citizens could critique the policy and decisions of local, state and federal officials elected from their congressional district. They could also question those seeking office. Politicians would be invited to defend their policies and inform the group, but they would be the supporting cast, not the other way around. The moderator would not be a pundit, but instead a citizen selected by the assembled group.

A state convention of citizens' assemblies could question officials elected statewide -- governors and U.S. senators for example. A national convention comprised of two citizen assembly representatives from each state could periodically question the president, federal appointed officials, and leaders of both parties in the House and Senate. That's a smaller group than the one convened for the debate in Hempstead, and presumably more people would get to participate.

As at the congressional district level, public officials could only be invited to attend. The citizens' assembly, being non-governmental and community-based, would have no power to compel their participation. But I think very few would refuse. Who knows, maybe C-SPAN would want to cover it.

There is some similarity here to the Jeffersonian "ward republic" Gary Hart describes in his book, Restoration of the Republic. The difference, as he notes in his book at pages 118-119, is that the ward republic is governmental, political. My notion of citizens' assemblies Hart would describe as communitarian, i.e., collective action by non-govermental organizations. That means no constitutional changes would be required to put the citizens' assemblies into practice.