Sortition: a democratic alternative to the electoral system

In order to achieve representative government political officers must be selected as a statistical sample of the population

This essay is an English version of an essay of mine that was recently published in Hebrew on the Israeli website Haayal Hakore. A lively discussion followed in the comment thread. I hope to pursue some the topics raised by commenters in upcoming posts.

2011 has seen an outpour of popular frustration with government. Mass demonstrations erupted in both Arab countries and Western countries. Over a year later, it appears that the results of the Arab Spring are very different from the results of the Western protests. While in some Arab countries the protests led to an overthrow of the government and significant political changes, the protest in the West dissipated almost everywhere leaving very little impact on the political structure. (Some claim that the protests in the West increased public political awareness and activism, but even if such claims are to be believed, political institutions were unaffected; the only exception is Iceland where some structural change has taken place.)

The difference between the outcomes in Arab countries and in the West can be explained by a fundamental difference in the agendas of the protests. The protesters in the Arab countries had a very clear and specific demand – removing an unelected, or only nominally elected, government and establishing an electoral system similar to the Western model. The Western protesters on the other hand expressed discontent with government policy, but had no clear demands about how things should be changed. The general message of the protest in the West was that public policy is not as it should be – it is serving the elites (“the 1%”) rather than serving the bulk of the population (“the 99%”). But while policy demands were sometimes presented (with varying degrees of coherence and emphasis) no program was laid out of how government should be changed in order to promote policy change.

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Korean Greens vote with sortition democracy

An item on the Asia Pacific Greens Network website:

Dear Greens,

I am very happy to inform all of you that Korean Greens finished its 1st representative congress successfully last 16th March 2013. This congress has been done based on 100% sortition democracy principle, which was the first-ever try in Korean political history. We GPK made our 134 representatives by sortition with consideration of locality, gender and age. We also procured the 10% portion for minority groups including underage, disabled and LGBTIQ. The 63% of our representatives from all over the country(16 cities and provinces) attended the congress in Seoul and discussed GPK’s action plan and budget of this year.

We GPK suppose this congress could be an successful example for the idea of sortition democracy, and would like to share our experience with all green friends of the globe. If you have any questions or want more information about it, please feel free to contact me. I attached a slide show link showing the atmosphere of the congress spot ( and video link showing the procedure of the sortition in which 9 local parties of GPK participated.(


June Gyeon Lee

International Secretary, Green Party of Korea

Plato: The equality of the lot

Badiblogger draws attention in a comment on the Literature page to the fact that Plato’s Laws discusses sortition.

In a passage in book VI Plato explains that it is sometimes necessary – contrary to the requirements of justice – to bow to popular pressure and use “the equality of the lot”:

The old saying, that “equality makes friendship,” is happy and also true; but there is obscurity and confusion as to what sort of equality is meant. For there are two equalities which are called by the same name, but are in reality in many ways almost the opposite of one another; one of them may be introduced without difficulty, by any state or any legislator in the distribution of honours: this is the rule of measure, weight, and number, which regulates and apportions them. But there is another equality, of a better and higher kind, which is not so easily recognized. This is the judgment of Zeus; among men it avails but little; that little, however, is the source of the greatest good to individuals and states. For it gives to the greater more, and to the inferior less and in proportion to the nature of each; and, above all, greater honour always to the greater virtue, and to the less less; and to either in proportion to their respective measure of virtue and education. And this is justice, and is ever the true principle of states, at which we ought to aim, and according to this rule order the new city which is now being founded, and any other city which may be hereafter founded. To this the legislator should look – not to the interests of tyrants one or more, or to the power of the people, but to justice always; which, as I was saying, the distribution of natural equality among unequals in each case. But there are times at which every state is compelled to use the words, “just,” “equal,” in a secondary sense, in the hope of escaping in some degree from factions. For equity and indulgence are infractions of the perfect and strict rule of justice. And this is the reason why we are obliged to use the equality of the lot, in order to avoid the discontent of the people; and so we invoke God and fortune in our prayers, and beg that they themselves will direct the lot with a view to supreme justice. And therefore, although we are compelled to use both equalities, we should use that into which the element of chance enters as seldom as possible.

Belgiorno-Nettis: The biggest challenge is to believe in ourselves

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, founder of newDemocracy, endorses Alex Zakaras’s allotted “Citizens’ Senate” in his TEDxSydney talk:

My take on this proposal and exchange with Zakaras are here: The elected legislator’s burden, Lottery and Legislative Powers: A Reply to Yoram Gat, and Limiting the allotted chamber’s powers – a foundational argument.

How to insure sortition would be attractive to most?

These two articles about the salaries, or lack thereof, offered to state legislators make me wonder about two aspects of any prospective sortitioned legislature.

The first is the question of how to attract and sustain participation, particularly regarding financial support.

The second, consequentially, is whether or not citizens should be required to actively submit their names to the pool for sortition. [“Not required” would be, then, as juries are chosen. “Required” would require registration…and possibly, further, a basic competence test — a la driver’s licences.]

Granted, both topics have been previously discussed in this blog. But I recall there is no agreement about either.