Sortition in popular movements? Modern kleroterion?

I’ve been thinking recently that one promising venue for experimenting with sortition might be popular movements such as Occupy here in the US, or the indignados in Spain. These are venues where people are unusually open to learning about, and even trying, new ways to organize society. Also, from what I know of here in San Francisco, the Occupy folks are trying to make most of their decisions in large “general assemblies,” which is very cumbersome, so I suspect that some of them would be very interested in ideas like sortition.

Does anybody here know of examples of sortition being used in popular movements, or have ideas about how it could work?

Also, does anyone know of a contemporary, technologically-assisted, affordable, user-friendly equivalent to the kleroterion that could be used in popular movements? I’m imagining something analogous to big meetings I’ve seen where all the attendees have hand-held devices that enable them to vote and then have the votes instantly tallied on a computer. I imagine that having a technology like that might make an experiment with sortition more desirable and feasible.

13 Responses

  1. David, piecemeal sortition didn’t last in Golden Age Greece nor in the several Northern Italian Renaissance cities that tried it out, and the piecemeal application is not going to work in the USA either. That’s because piecemeal versions always leave a toehold for the everready standing class of elites to retain and grow their Oligarchy. Today’s popularity-contest screening-out system is 100% ~ “to elect” = “to vote” period! All political elections are Popularity Contests. What we will have to do is to swap that “BLANKET” for the other “BLANKET,” i.e. the truly democratic one, i.e., sortition. See


  2. That should be, I presume.


  3. Sortition in real political parties and real movements (in fact identical to one another) should consider:

    1) Quota sampling could be used for gender or for cooperation between tendencies, platforms, and currents in an editorial organ. That organ might require some number of class-strugglist anarchists or rather pro-party anarcho-syndicalists, some number of participatory socialists, some number of market socialists, and of course some number of revolutionary-centrists. This would go a long way towards ensuring that key political positions are not censored from the party press.

    2) Cluster sampling would be inherent in geographically lower party organizations. Nobody from the Middle East would be selected at random to lead a South American organization.

    3) Probability-proportional-to-size sampling could be used to measure the relative strength of the tendencies, platforms, and currents in certain organs. This would solve the political problems associated historically with the slate system on the class-strugglist left, which according to one Pat Byrne is supposed to “recommend a list that consciously includes a good balance of talents and personalities [but] in practice […] has allowed leaders to secure their continuous re-election along with a body of like-minded and loyal followers.”

    4) Once more, stratified sampling could be used for lists to filter based on specialized knowledge, past or present experience in key occupations (job slots), but it could also be used for lists to filter based on more basic criteria like mere duration of voting membership.


  4. There is a danger of conflating political representation and representation within an activists’ movement or organisation. For example, judging from the parliamentary election results, it would appear that the Tahrir Square activists were not representative of broader Egyptian society (especially the agrarian population). So those of us interested in descriptive representation might be a little concerned about David’s suggestion. I’m sure Occupy movement activists might well be interested in ensuring the correct balance of anarchists and the various socialist groupings but might have some difficulty agreeing on the stratification method. Will the pro-party anarcho-syndicalists agree to equal weighting with the revolutionary-centrists? Personally I’m more concerned about empowering those who otherwise lack a voice, even if that fails to reflect the visionary enthusiasm of the revolutionary vanguard, hence my unease regarding David’s suggestion.


  5. Keith, as I said in my post above, the form of sampling other than basic, unfiltered random sampling depends on the circumstances. Quota sampling would work for something like an editorial organ precisely because of actually promoting “fair and balanced” (not Faux News-style) left discussions.

    I don’t think quota sampling would work for something like a Central Workers Council:

    [It’s my suggested name for replacing central/executive committees, as well as a polemic against ad hoc, non-party councilism.]

    For that, I suggested above probability-proportional-to-size, or is that precisely your problem re. “empowering those who otherwise lack a voice, even if that fails to reflect the visionary enthusiasm of the revolutionary vanguard”?

    I forgot to add above as an extra point that regional or local organizations could employ something like random balloting:

    My last remark above re. actual stratified sampling is a comradely acknowledgement that there are positive lessons, not just wholesale negative ones, to borrow from the nomenclature and job slot systems developed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Key positions simply must be identified en masse to be filled on the basis of qualifications, hence nomenklatura. Various committees must have a limited form of institutional pluralism (central party apparatus, electoral participants, key regional party organizations, trade unionists, etc.), hence job slots.


  6. Sorry Jacob, I’m very ignorant on this particular topic. I was just concerned about possible conflations.


  7. Keith, I think you may have misunderstood my intent.

    You wrote, “There is a danger of conflating political representation and representation within an activists’ movement or organisation.”

    I agree! These two situations differ in important ways. Usually, the membership of any movement will not be fully representative of society as a whole, and the tasks of governance within a movement or movement organization will be different from the tasks of governance in society as a whole.

    You also wrote, “Personally I’m more concerned about empowering those who otherwise lack a voice, even if that fails to reflect the visionary enthusiasm of the revolutionary vanguard.”

    The reason that I’m thinking about movements like Occupy as possible venues for experiments with sortition is not because I think they’re the “revolutionary vanguard.” Instead, I’m thinking that they might be places where a bunch of democratically oriented people could be unusually open to experimenting with sortition, and that such experiments might provide a complementary kind of knowledge to what can be learned from the public sector experiments of people like James Fishkin and Ned Crosby.


  8. Sorry David, my mistake.


  9. David has a general point. The way highly organized movements are organized actually tend to prefigure the organization of the societies they seek to usher in.

    Keith, some links:


  10. No need for apology – in fact, it was helpful to me that you emphasized the differences between governance within an organization or a movement versus governance in society as a whole. That insight makes it easier to think about what sort of knowledge could be gained from experiments within a movement, or a civil society organization, that would be transferable to governance of a polity.


  11. Let me just say that, without such “knowledge” from these experiments, you’ll end up with forms of bureaucracy and general organization that you will regret later.


  12. My understanding is that sortition was adopted piecemeal at Athens. Cleisthenes seems to have introduced it for his new Council (Boule) of 500 in 508/7 B.C. We know that sortition from among preselected (probably elected at tribe level) candidates was used for the Archons — previously simply elected — from 487/6 B.C. At some point, sortition was used for both steps in the selection of Archons. Solon had given a right to appeal legal verdicts to the people, but probably to the whole Assembly sitting in a judicial capacity. We don’t know when the limited boards of jurors selected by lot first started to sit, but this was probably connected with the reforms sponsored by Ephialtes and Pericles stripping the Areopagus of most of its powers in 462/1 B.C. We also don’t know when sortition was adopted for other state officials.

    The practice of paying citizens for government service was also adopted piecemeal, first for jurors in the 450’s, later, in stages, for members of the Council (Boule), citizens attending the Assembly, and, to a limited extent, for officials.


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