2013 review – sortition-related events

Ahmed Teleb suggested the following as the most noteworthy sortition-related events of 2013:

  • the publication of Hélène Landemore’s book, Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many, which has a section called “Elections versus Random Selection”:

    Random lotteries would indeed produce what is known as ‘descriptive representation’ of the people […] ensuring statistical similarity of thoughts and preferences of the rulers and the ruled.” (p. 108),


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Discussions of sortition in German?

Does anyone know of organizations, publications or websites that discuss sortitional selection of legislatures in German?

Teleb: If Crowds Are Wise, Why Isn’t Congress?

Ahmed Teleb makes the wisdom-by-diversity argument against elections and more specifically against first-past-the-post systems:

We’ve all heard of the “wisdom of crowds” especially after James Surowiecki’s 2004 best-selling book by that name and Scott Page’s 2007 “The Difference.” […]

So why does the US Congress, a crowd of 535, seem so remarkably un-wise?
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2013 review – statistics

Below are some statistics about the fourth year of Equality-by-Lot. Comparable numbers for last year can be found here.

2013 Page views Posts Comments
Jan 1,665 9 118
Feb 1,273 3 17
Mar 1,329 5 111
Apr 1,783 12 163
May 1,628 11 84
June 1,499 11 118
July 1,801 9 148
Aug 1,578 5 82
Sept 1,730 10 182
Oct 2,518 12 234
Nov 1,629 9 147
Dec (to 20th) 950 4 34
Total 19,383 100 1,438

Note that page views do not include visits by logged-in contributors – the wordpress system does not count those visits.

Posts were made by 10 authors during 2013. (There were, of course, many other authors quoted and linked to.)

There are currently 116 email and WordPress followers of this blog. In addition there are 24 Twitter followers (@Klerotarian) and 43 Facebook followers.

Searching for “distribution by lot” (with quotes) using Google returns Equality-by-Lot as the second result (out of “about 109,000 results”), as well as the third and fourth results. Searching for “sortition” returns Equality-by-Lot as the 9th result (out of “about 60,800 results”).

No equality for women without sortition

The essay below was written at the suggestion of Campbell Wallace. It is meant as an attempt to recruit feminists to the cause of sortition. As an aside, it is worth mentioning, I think, that while, of course, men could be feminists, and some are, it is still somewhat embarrassing that all of the regular writers on Equality-by-Lot are men (I believe).

Almost 100 years ago, as the suffragist struggle in the US was approaching its successful culmination with the 19th Amendment, the feminist-anarchist activist Emma Goldman wrote her essay “Woman Suffrage”. It opens so:

We boast of the age of advancement, of science, and progress. Is it not strange, then, that we still believe in fetich [sic] worship? True, our fetiches have different form and substance, yet in their power over the human mind they are still as disastrous as were those of old. Our modern fetich is universal suffrage. Those who have not yet achieved that goal fight bloody revolutions to obtain it, and those who have enjoyed its reign bring heavy sacrifice to the altar of this omnipotent deity. Woe to the heretic who dare question that divinity!

And later:

There is no reason whatever to assume that woman, in her climb to emancipation, has been, or will be, helped by the ballot.

Electoral fetish

The veracity of Goldman’s opening statements has not diminished by the passage of time. Indeed, “electoral fetish” is a two-word description of most of the political discourse of the last 100 years, both public and academic. As for Goldman’s last assertion, it may be considered somewhat extreme, but what is clear is that 100 years of women’s suffrage have not brought women anywhere near equality with men. If attaining suffrage was a tool of emancipation (rather than merely the milestone it surely was), then it is evident that this tool was not nearly as powerful as its most ardent promoters believed it would be1.
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Call for 2013 review input

As in the past years (2012, 2011, 2010), I would like to create a post or two summarizing the sortition- and distribution-by-lot-related developments of the year and the activity here on Equality-by-Lot.

Please use the comments to give your input on what you think are the most mention-worthy events or essays of the past year.

Making A Case for Democracy By Sortition

Google Alerts found the following proposal and discussion, going much along the standard lines.

The Athenian magistrate system had many problems during it’s long life, and one of them was the issue of rule via oligarchy: in a democratic system driven by voter elections (as championed by Socrates), magistrates could effectively buy their seats. In turn, the Greek administration created by popular vote came represent only the interests of the wealthy.

This problem was solved by discarding elections in favor of sortition – simply drawing from the public at random whom would hold what seat for a given term.

I think this is a system that ought to be seriously considered for use today (of course it will never be, but whatever, I can pretend that this is totes up for debate somehow & somewhere).

…So you just pick people at random, and boom, there’s your government?

In essence, yes. There’s an annual lottery (or bi-annual, or however many times over ‘X’ time period you want to rotate people out), and everyone that meets eligibility criteria (so, presumably, no children) are included in said lottery. If your name / SSN / whatever is drawn, you fill a seat. It’s a paid position, just like today, and you otherwise do exactly what government officials do (or are supposed to do) right now.

The contagion effect

Although the following is not an example of sortitionally selected participants, it does highlight the ‘contagion effect’ of a focused, widely-reported deliberation by diverse and contending political positions.

I suppose a comparison could be made to Fishkin’s Deliberative Democracy events. This one was in Canada in 1991.

Excerpting from a message from Tom Atlee of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation:

I’d like to highlight what I think of as the most innovative example of that “contagion effect…beyond direct participants” — the 1991 Maclean’s “The People’s Verdict” initiative.


Maclean’s is Canada’s big glossy newsweekly.  Key features of their initiative and July 1, 1991 issue were:
a.  a citizen deliberative group chosen to embody the diversity – specific differences – found in the conflicted Canadian population;
b.  powerful group process and facilitation (by Roger Fisher of GETTING TO YES fame)(even though the group ultimately transcended the process for their key interpersonal breakthrough);
c.  an article early in their multi-article coverage that featured half-page bios (with pictures) of each of the dozen participants, which allowed readers to learn which participants they identified with and which ones they initially viewed as adversaries;
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