The Triumph of Election

Why did the American founders ignore the case for sortition? It was well known at the time that sortition was one of the primary mechanisms of Athenian democracy and this explains why Madison and his Federalist chums (who were no democrats) ignored it. But even Antifederalists (who argued the democratic case for descriptive representation) failed to propose sortition as a means to establish a legislature that was a ‘portrait in miniature’ of the whole community. According to Bernard Manin it was philosophy – in the form of the Natural Right theory of consent – that was the principle cause of the ‘triumph of election’ (Manin, 1997, Ch.2). But is this true?

James Fishkin points out that the etymological root of ‘deliberation’ (deliberationem) is ‘weighing’ (2009, p.35), so when a randomly-selected assembly member of an allotted chamber (AC) ‘like me’ weighs up the arguments and judges accordingly then I am descriptively represented. But is it possible to take this further and argue that I thereby consent to the judgment of a randomly-selected assembly? The argument for this further claim would need to take the following lines (paraphrasing Fishkin, 2009):

  1. Someone ‘like’ me would, ex hypothesi, exercise judgment in the same way that I would myself. The argument does not require a definition of the ‘likeness’ criteria (age, gender, occupation, political preferences etc.), as the randomization process in principle reflects the incidence of any quality in the general population.
  2. The number of representatives ‘like me’ in an allotted assembly would be proportionate to the number in the general population. If the sample is not sufficiently fine-grained to accurately reflect the distribution of any quality deemed to be salient to the exercise of political judgment then the sample numbers would need to be increased accordingly: only a relatively small sample would be needed to provide an accurate gender balance, whereas the proportional representation of, say, albinos or molecular microbiologists would require a larger sample. The rapid growth of the polling industry is a testimonial to the accuracy and validity of the probability sampling principle.
  3. Therefore the aggregate judgment of the allotted assembly would represent the considered judgment of the whole population. This was the principle behind the nomothetai (legislative assemblies) introduced in fourth-century Athens.
  4. All electors are currently deemed to consent to the results of a general election, whether or not ‘their’ candidate was victorious; so the same principle should apply to the result of a vote in an allotted assembly (the only difference being the employment of one or other of the two mechanisms – election or sortition – that constitute a ‘ballot’.) Although one might argue that the ‘consent’ involved is at best tacit, hypothetical (or some other form of ‘useful fiction’), the same is true in both instances of the ‘ballot’.

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