Is there a list or collection of examples of the political use of sortition?

I presume the list would start with Athens, then Florence & Venice, and include the Citizen’s Assembly of British Columbia.

The hardest question I have to answer is: Where has this been tried and where IS it NOW being used?

13 Responses

  1. By ‘political’ you would mean that a lottery was used to pick the people to perform political functions like juror, legislator or (maybe) administrator (of some public function).

    I’ve got a list, which may slightly overlap, but is mainly concerned with what I’ve called ‘Who gets the Prize?’ — where a lottery has been used to decide who gets a school or university place, a house or a job.

    To view these examples go to

    I’ve included a few items which might be the basis for the ‘political’ list you suggest. Time to get going with a collaboration?


  2. Today the USA employs the Popularity Contest as its one and only system of elections. When we hear “elect” we only naturally think “vote.” So what we have is not just Popularity-Contest elections; we have BLANKET P-C Elections.

    All your “kleroterian” talk has been about sortition but only as an element within or alongside another system or, more often, an hodge-podge of “mixed” systems (as if there is some virtue in such mixing). Never in all of human history has there been full commitment to Lottery Election and therefore never to the democracy of such, thus depriving the Republic form-of-government of it’s most vital element. Hence, all the faux-Monarchies, faux-Theocracies, faux-Democracies, and faux-Republics that have ever been have been little more than thickly-to-thinly-veiled OLIGARCHIES, the one and only national format ever known to Man.

    Sortition is a dandy historical study, to be sure. But if what starts there and ends there is all there is to it, then why not focus on something less vain than just making a name for yourself in the world of Academia? The BLANKET P-C has been Oligarchy’s free pass to lordship over the masses. BEL is the means whereby we might dethrone the patent injustice of Oligarchy. If you scholars’ “Ivory Tower” has an elevator, please let me out at the ground floor.

    Thank you. Richard Ward, Tennessean.


  3. Richard Ward, I suspect that if one is interested in making a name in academic political science, sortition would be an unfashionable choice today (and most days). I think you can pretty well trust the academics who advocate it to do so for sincere reasons.

    If you ask me what practical steps can be taken, I think the following is best:

    * Inform politically active people about sortition, but don’t oversell it at first. People may be open to using sortition on a small scale to get public input into decision-making (this is not so far from the use of focus groups in marketing research, after all), but if you propose immediately toppling the powers that be, they will get understandably concerned.

    * Try to get a discussion website to use random allotment, coupled with a decent system of real identities, to get quality democratic media. Not only would success here be good PR for the idea, democratic media is terribly important in its own right. Since the chances of convincing an existing site to implement sortition (plus adequate protection against multiple accounts) are slim, we should probably work to establish this site ourselves.


  4. Richard,

    I am not sure about the other writers and readers of this blog, but I do share your wholesale rejection of elections (yes – that term is understood to mean “voting” and I see no point in confusing the issue by applying that term to a very different mechanism).

    I still think however that it would be reckless to introduce a single step transition to a completely sortition-based system. I think a well-designed gradual transition would reduce the risk of catastrophic unintended consequences while the various details of the system are being optimized. In addition, I think that the chance that a single step transition would be supported by a majority of the population is rather small (and for a good reason), so a gradualist agenda is more realistic.


  5. Harald,

    Yes – expressing a full-throated support for sortition and a rejection of elections would probably be problematic in academia, but then what Richard is saying is that we are not seeing this happening. A more ambivalent position – such as that of Manin or Stone – is acceptable, I think. That doesn’t mean, of course, that any reservations about sortition that are expressed by such academics are not sincere or a product of a calculation.

    As for a gradualist approach, I think this has to be designed with care. One could easily get into a situation where sortition is being used merely as a tool to legitimate an oligarchical system (just as elections are), or is being set up to fail and be discredited.

    Finally, I am of course a strong supporter of the idea of democratic media. There is a bootstrap problem however: how do we start such a project without having a wide pool of contributors? How do we get a wide pool of contributors without having an ongoing media channel?


  6. I just came across some information according to which the City of Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain) counts with a Council of the City (which is mainly advisory it seems), where social organisations and interest groups are represented, including (and this is really the news) 12 citizens selected by lot. More info (in Spanish and Catalan) at


  7. I notice that my original question — Where has this been tried and where IS it NOW being used? — was ignored by all except Conan Boyle. I wonder if the list of examples under ‘sortition’ on Wikipedia is exhaustive?
    Also, by the way … the Wikipedia entry on ‘demarchy’ almost fully conflates ‘sortition’ and ‘demarchy’. Even in the short paragraph on John Burheim the article does not acknowledge Burnheim’s popularization of the term.
    Digging further in Wikipedia, I learn that Burnheim took the term from Friedrich Hayek’s *Law, Legislation and Liberty*. But in neither the Wikipedia article on Hayek himself nor on his book does the term ‘demarchy’ appear.


  8. Hayek was using demarchy in a different sense from Burnheim — all John borrowed (with acknowledgement to Hayek) was the word, not the concept.


  9. Good to know, Keith. Thanks. And also thanks for the reply to my reply in ‘representing diversity’ thread.


  10. Six years later … I believe I might have had my initial question in this thread answered elsewhere. But at the moment I can’t recall or find … an up-to-date list of examples where sortition has been — or is being, or is slated — to be used to select policy-making or policy-advising bodies.
    Is there such a list somewhere?


  11. Brett has been compiling such a list at the sortition foundation …. but says he has a backlog of examples that have not been posted to his map.


  12. Thanks, Terry, the Sortition Foundation’s spreadsheet is useful, even if cumbersome to read in detail.

    Might it be useful to add “Examples” to this blog’s Categories list?


  13. David,

    The “applications” category may be what you are looking for.


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