The programmable voter, or, elections are not what they used to be

Mark Zuckerberg was hauled in front of Congress to answer for the “Cambridge Analytica scandal”. In the hearing he remorsefully promised that his top priority is now “making sure no one interferes in the various 2018 elections around the world”.

At face value this is a meaningless (and somewhat self-important) promise – there is nothing to distinguish “interference” from plain old campaign propaganda. And indeed at some level the whole spectacle was nothing more than a show – nothing concrete can be expected to be gained or lost. Presumably Facebook will make some changes to the way information (or misinformation) flows through its servers and the result will be that some pieces information (or misinformation) will be amplified and others suppressed. But, of course, Facebook already processes information in some way and this existing way also inevitably discriminates between pieces of information. What Facebook does or will do with the information it handles is completely up this private, unaccountable, opaque organization, motivated by its business and political interests, and there is thus little reason to expect any fairness or equality in the way it handles information. Thus no substantive change can be expected.
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Sortition in eight flavors

In four screenplays, a short stage play, a long essay, a novella and a novel I consider the pros and cons of using sortition (random selection) to ensure that policy-making bodies accurately represent the people they serve.

The Fight for Random – wild magical realist screenplay

Random Takes Off – political action drama screenplay

Democracy at Random – road trip screenplay addressing eugenics and income

Random Takes Baltimore – municipal version of “Random Takes Off” screenplay

Next Step for Democracy – a short comedic educational stage play

Why Elections Are the Problem and How to Make Democracy Real — annotated essay

On the Citizen House: A Disquisitional Fiction – a disputatious novella

The Common Lot: A Novel – as stated

Detailed descriptions at https://amazon.com/author/grantd.

Robin Cohen: Beating the Cambridge Analyticas

Robin Cohen, Senior Research Fellow at Kellogg College and Emeritus Professor of Development Studies at the University of Oxford, writes in OpenDemocracy about his concerns following the “Cambridge Analytica” scandal:

We are now all aware of how our electoral systems have been manipulated by harvesting our digital footprints and preferences. Targeted messages, images and false information are then deployed to support or denigrate particular candidates, with no verification and no disclosure of the source of the posts.

We need to change the game to outsmart the Cambridge Analyticas. The best way to do this is vastly to increase the pool of candidates, then select our representatives by lot. This is technically known at sortition, or demarchy.

The system has many advantages, but in this context it would make digital electoral fraud uneconomic and, indeed, pointless. Allocation of offices by lot now gets an increasingly respectful hearing from political theorists [See, for example, Peter Stone ‘Sortition, voting, and democratic equality’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 19 (3), 2016, 339-56, DOI: 10.1080/13698230.2016.1144858]. There is even a Sortition Foundation set up to promote the idea worldwide.

Here are just some of the advantages:

  • Corrupt, power-hungry or narcissistic politicians will be stopped in their tracks.
  • A public service ethic will be enhanced.
  • As the pool of talent will be massively enlarged there is a good chance that we will get better public servants compared with those who are self-selected or supported by special interest groups.
  • Party loyalties will be diminished, limiting block votes (whipping) and encouraging individual judgement.
  • Given random selection, our representatives will be more representative of the population. There will be no need for women-only shortlists or positive discrimination to include hitherto excluded minorities.

There are two obvious objections to sortition. First, unsuitable people might be drawn by lot. Second, it is generally acknowledged in the literature that the system works best in small communities or assemblies. How damaging are these objections?
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A bold new trust-building project called a Community Solutions Panel

From the Byron Shire Council website:

Community Solutions Panel
What infrastructure spending should we prioritise, and how should we fund these priorities if the rates alone are not enough?

This is the question that Byron Council will put to a randomly selected group of 28 people as part of a bold new trust-building project called a Community Solutions Panel.

Council has chosen to work with the newDemocracy Foundation to see if a community deliberation can be designed which delivers an informed voice of everyday people.
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Passerelle

Some consider Switzerland as a laboratory for democratic experiments. The Swiss town of Bienne exemplifies this trend. This city of more than 50,000 inhabitants is home for a movement called Passerrelle.

Having been created in 2008, Passerrelle recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. In 2011, they advocated for the involvement of foreigners in communal policies. This step toward openness demonstrates their philosophy: use everybody’s ideas. In 2017 Passerelle has proposed the creation of citizen assemblies. The assemblies would suggest ideas for solving municipal problems. Like many sortition proponents, Passarelle mentions the reliance on sortition in ancient Greece.

Two bridges which link different landscapes or methods.

Passerelle is putting up a candidate for the March 2018 elections of Berne’s regional council. Ruth Tennenbaum is the name of their candidate. This is an unimportant detail since, as a hack of the Swiss electoral system, Tennenbaum will resign as soon as she gets elected. I already wrote about a method used by Demorun to mix the electoral system with random selection in a previous post. Passerelle aims to go further and make the random selection after the vote to avoid any possible personification occurring during the campaign. Some “technical” details remain to be decided: the list they will pick from and the method used to perform the random selection. On this latter point I contacted a source close to Passerelle who told me that they might use the method I described in a previous post! The election takes place on the 22nd of March. A story to be continued…

Thank you for reading! If I forgot something, the comment section is just below.

This post was originally published on The sortition blog.

It’s the Economy, (not) stupid!

I’ve never met Paul Wyatt – who describes himself as a self-producing filmmaker and media consultant. I’ve admired his work from a distance though, both as an inspiration for my own efforts to transform myself into a multi-media journalist and also for the subject matter he’s currently focused on.

I’m highlighting his work to Equality by Lot readers as you may be able to help him – right now – to raise some money to promote the cause of random selection and deliberation as it relates to economic policy. The challenge he’s facing is directly relevant to EbL readers. You are people, I assume, who are intent on spreading awareness and best practice of sortition in its different forms.

If Paul gets the money, and completes his film, we’ll all have a tool to help us argue the case for citizens to get a stronger voice in directing economic policy.

That’s why I’m spending some of my time writing this blog post.

Paul is crowdfunding for the money to complete a film on the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council.

The RSA programme gave randomly selected British citizens a non-binding say on national economic policy, and influence over the future of the UK economy.

So far, so so, you demanding EbL readers would say. You’d be right, of course, the Council conclusions didn’t oblige any policy maker to do anything with those findings, regardless of how good they might have been. Not at all best practice in sortition land but not catastrophically bad either.

The RSA initiative has had some heavyweight endorsement from the likes of Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England. Who knows how far its recommendations will make it through the mechanisms of government and public policy? Perhaps its best legacy will be to move the debate and practices forward for others to then pick them up in turn.

Paul secured an RSA commission to document this event – something he did with skill and style in the short film shown below. You can access the kickstarter campaign via this link, and share it far and wide to your networks.
 

Kialo discussion on lottery

Kialo.com is a website featuring a form of debate that is unlike most discussion platforms on the internet. Instead of the usual bulletin format – where debates are often repeated, trolls derail discussions and things can get rather emotional – Kialo focuses on a tree structure. Each argument has pros and cons hanging beneath it. This has the benfit of being concise, the argument following a logical pattern and things tend to stay more focused.

Here’s a short video on how it functions.

 

The reason for bringing this up, is that a new debate has started on lottery: Lottery should be an integral component of democratic political systems. Bring in arguments of your own! Let’s debate the issue.