Your RDA of Irony

Doge Ball

The city-state of Venice was a republic by default. None of its ruling families was able to eliminate or terrorize its rivals. So the aristocrats agreed to share power but only among themselves. Their idea of a republic would be our idea of a country club. The club—the Grand Council–had 450 members; and the rest of Venice’s population amounted to 140,000 waiters and caddies. (But the club members were good tippers.)

However, even the Grand Council did not govern Venice. The club’s steering committee and executive board managed the day to day affairs of the mercantile empire. There was also the club president: the Doge. The Doge was elected for life, but the election process would have bewildered a Byzantine.

It was as much a lottery as an election. First, 30 members of the Grand Council were chosen by lot.  From this group, 9 were chosen by lot. Those 9 members selected 40 members of the Grand Council; and from the 40, then 12 were chosen by lot. The 12 would select 25 members; and a lottery would pick 9 of them. They would elect 45 members, and then a lottery would choose 11 from them. The 11 would choose 41 members–who actually would elect the Doge. Oh, the Doge had to receive at least 25 out of 41 votes.

And you thought that our Electoral College was stupid. Yet, this convoluted system served Venice for five centuries, from 1268 to 1797.

Furthermore, this bewildering process did enrich our vocabulary. In the electoral lottery, each member received a wax ball which had to be broken open. If his wax ball contained a piece of parchment with the word “lector”, the lucky member proceeded to the next stage of the election. The word for these wax orbs was “ballotes.”

That does sound familiar.

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    To me, this strikes me as decidedly more rational and exponentially more fair than letting some pimply-faced “Young Repiglickin” IT guy pick our elected representatives for us somewhere in the bowels of Diebold and/or the RNC.

  2. MARY ANN JUNG says:

    I’m surprised they could count that high or that many times given how inbred they were. Also amazed they allowed that many of their rivals to live. They didn’t have the Medici mafia mentality…

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