Sortition in Ha’aretz

Ha’aretz is Israel’s elite newspaper. With Israel’s second election day of 2019 coming up in about a month, Ha’aretz published in its latest weekend magazine an article by Hilo Glaser offering readers several reform ideas for the political system. Sortition got top billing. I was interviewed for the article. Below is a translation of some excerpts (original in Hebrew, paywalled).

The method: Sortition (i.e., lottery instead of elections)

The idea: Advocates of sortition note that modern democracy embraces ideas originating from Ancient Greece, but it disposes of the government mechanism that enabled their application. In ancient democracy public offices were appointed by lottery among the entire citizenry. This is how officials, clerics, and even government ministers were appointed.

In 2014, Prof. Irad Malkin published an article in Ha’aretz in which he explained that “the lottery was the most effective tool against the oligarchy of money and government, drawing the citizens into the political activity and allowing them to take part at different levels: in the sovereign assembly, in the high council, and in the courts. This worked well for 200 years.”

Not only historians are calling to revive the lottery mechanism. Yoram Gat, a software engineer and a statistics Ph.D., has recently published an article challenging the mechanism of elections in view of the public frustration with elected institutions and offering sortition as an alternative. He claims that allotment of political office holders will result in optimal representation of the different groups in the population.
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Code of Good Practice for allotted mini-publics involved with legislation

This text is meant as a start to discuss the problem, it is not even a draft. My hope is nevertheless that we will reach that point, or even farther.

Introduction: As the use of mini-publics appointed by sortition is spreading around the world, and is reaching the legislative level, a code of good practice is essential. A glossary is also necessary.

We know that not all essential criteria can always be met, but we have to know at least what to aim for and how to refute well-founded criticism and protect a valuable democratic system. Citizens must know that there are essential choices to make that are of significant impact on the outcome and on the reliability of the results.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is what the kind of application it is we have at hand. The participation ladder from Arnstein may be of help. The participation cube from Archon Fung is somewhat more complicated but more up to date. Or we can look for an answer ourselves.

– Is the proposed mini-public of significant influence on legislation? Answers may differ, but we have to make a decision.

The Oregon CIR system has a noticeable influence on legislative decision making (by referendum in this case). Providing information is a very important issue in any form of democratic legislation.

The Washington state panel that sets the wages of elected legislators has no influence on legislation.

The Irish panel is also not of direct significant influence on legislation. It makes non-binding suggestions to the elected body which decides to whether to initiate a referendum or not.

A Jury in the judicial system has no relation to legislative use.

For this reasons I suggest that the first code of good practice is about the lowest legislative level, the Oregon CIR (or alike).  Although the Oregon CIR is difficult to place at the Arnstein ladder I propose to qualify it at level 6 for the sake of comparing it with other initiatives.

Irregularities in the selection process of the Irish Citizen Assembly

This is over a year old, but is relevant to the recent discussions here of allotment procedures.

Seven people who took part in the last Citizens’ Assembly weren’t recruited properly
Feb 21st 2018

A TOTAL OF seven people who took part in the last meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly were improperly recruited and shouldn’t have been there. The Citizens’ Assembly confirmed that seven of the 99 citizens present at a meeting on 13 and 14 January had been recruited improperly by Red C Research and Marketing.

In statements from both the Citizens’ Assembly and Red C, the fault was placed on one specific Red C recruiter. Both bodies said that after an extensive internal audit it was determined that the issue was isolated to January’s Assembly meeting and that past meetings were not affected.
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The United States chapter of Sortition Foundation

Owen Shaffer writes:

The Sortition Foundation has a United States Chapter that started up earlier this year. We hold online meetings that may be of interest to you. The group includes some folks you would recognize and has a healthy group of people that are new to sortition.

If you would like to join us, email me at dshaffer@lander.edu and I will send you the link to join the meeting. The announcement follows.

You can also join a group email for announcements at http://lists.sortitionfoundation.org/subscribe/usa and a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/420337885380259 as well.

Owen Shaffer, Convenor

The next online meeting of the US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation will, as before, be held twice. You can join either one of the almost identical sessions.

Sunday 4 August: 4pm Eastern, 3 Central, 2 Mountain, 1pm Pacific

Tuesday 6 August: 9pm Eastern, 8 Central, 7 Mountain, 6pm Pacific

We are trying something new: a guest speaker. The idea is a short presentation followed by discussion. This time I will present some original research that I have recently completed; it is described at the bottom. A future guest could look at, for example, citizens’ assemblies in America. We will discuss the guest speaker concept during the meeting.

We will also get a status report from each of our Groups, talk more about how we can support each other and, in short, enjoy one of those times when we get to talk with sortive folks!

Owen

Guest Speaker: Owen Shaffer. Topic: Representative Representatives?

Does Congress look like the rest of America? I have charts that show how different they are, including ethnicity, wealth, age, religion, previous job and education– over 30 data points. Several have not been published before, and most have not been compared to the general population before. Obviously this leads into sortition. How can this data be used to strengthen our movement?

Rennix and Nimni: Alternatives to judges

In the June 2018 issue of Current Affairs magazine, Brianna Rennix and Oren Nimni discuss the horrors of the judicial branch of the Western system of government, where professional judges each rule their “tiny fiefdoms and everyone who enters must cater to their whims”.

[A] lot of seemingly “impartial” legal standards—like the famous “what would a reasonable person do” standard—are inherently subjective, so that it’s hard to say what an “impartial” application would even mean. The law is full of attempts to determine what “reasonable” behavior would be in a particular situation. It should shock no one (except lawyers) that people often have wildly divergent views of what “reasonableness” means in any given situation. For courts, the “reasonable person” standard has a disturbing tendency to align with whatever best suits the positions of those in power. Think of all of the police officers whose shootings of unarmed black people have been deemed “reasonable”—and then say you want a judicial system run by “reasonable” or “impartial” judges.

At the end, they consider some alternatives. The first among their “more radical solutions to the judge problem” is “no more judges”:

But how can you have a legal system without judges, you say? Well, in Ancient Athens (immediate chorus of boos) no, hear me out (boos continue) look, I am not proposing ancient Athens as a civilizational ideal, I am just exploring an alternative institutional design (boos increase in volume) IN ANCIENT ATHENS, judges were essentially administrative functionaries, with no real decision-making power. Cases were decided entirely by enormous juries of 201-501 people, who were assigned to cases by random lottery and received a small fee for their services. A simple majority vote, without deliberation, determined the verdict. In the words of legal historian Adriaan Lanni, “the Athenians made a conscious decision to reject the rule of law in most cases, and they did so because they thought giving juries unlimited discretion to reach verdicts based on the particular circumstances of each case was the most just way to resolve disputes.”

Sortition Foundation’s selection & stratification services: how do they compare to the standards?

There was some discussion on Equality-by-Lot recently about developing allotment standards for sortition-based decision making bodies. Among other issues, the question of stratification got some attention. It turns out that Sortition Foundation, which is engaged in such activities, has a document (PDF) describing their procedure. It could be interesting and useful to compare the procedure laid out in the document with proposals for standards which were discussed. I invite readers to do so in the comments below or by contributing a post.

Criteria for a representative citizens’ assembly

Given the high profile of some recent (UK) proposals for allotted citizens’ assemblies — including Conservative leadership candidate Rory Stewart’s Brexit assembly and Extinction Rebellion’s global warming assembly — there is an urgent need to initiate an informed conversation on the requisite criteria to ensure that the assembly design is compatible with principles of democratic legitimacy. As we have been debating this topic in depth on this forum for many years, this looks like a good place to start. The underlying assumption of this post is that the legitimising principle is ‘stochation’ — i.e. an assembly that is a portrait in miniature of the population that it seeks to ‘describe’ and that the goal is to increase the fidelity of the representation, subject to cost and other practical constraints. I would suggest the following criteria:

Criteria for the acceptability of the allotment procedure
The criteria for an impartial random-selection algorithm have been covered by Yoram Gat’s recent post. Terry Bouricius has also argued that the need to be seen to be fair might require some sort of public ceremony, as in pre-modern applications of sortition.

Selection pool
Should the same criteria of citizenship be used as for the electoral role, or is there a case to open it to all affected interests? However the Athenians were less inclusive, requiring a higher age for lawmakers than regular citizens along with swearing the heliastic oath.

Voluntary or quasi-mandatory participation?
Athenian legislative juries were drawn from a pool of volunteers, but the 6,000 citizens were a very substantial proportion of the citizen body and there was strong normative pressure for all citizens to serve (those who didn’t were ho idiōtēs).  However the modern take-up of sortition invitations has been in the region of only 4%, so it might well be argued that voluntary participation would generate an atypical sample. If so, should participation be a civic duty (as in jury service) or will incentives and support suffice, bearing in mind that the relevant principle is the representation of the beliefs and preferences of the vast majority of citizens who are not included in the allotment?

Size of the allotted sample
Modern examples of sortition have been for bodies ranging from only twenty to several hundred, and some statisticians have argued that 1,000 is the minimum size for a reasonably accurate representation (Athenian juries ranged from 501 to 5,001). What is the connection between sample size, decision threshold and confidence interval? How big could the sample be before the onset of rational ignorance?

Length of service
On the one hand a citizens’ assembly would need time to gain adequate knowledge on the issue under consideration, whereas on the other there is the danger of participants ‘going native’ and thereby ceasing to adequately reflect the beliefs and preferences of their (virtual) constituents. Should assemblies be convened on an ad hoc basis (as with 4th century Athenian lawmaking), or is there a case for permanent bodies with rolling tenure for members?
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