Boyd Tonkin: We should fill at least some public offices by lottery

Commenter ee notes an article by Boyd Tonkin in The Independent in which Tonkin, after warming up to the issue of popular displeasure with the electoral system, writes:

Most of the sounder proposals to refresh faith in democracy invoke some kind of “deliberative” process. Informed citizens should, in this model, have the opportunity to take part in every link of the decision-making chain rather than simply issue a yes/no verdict at its finale. In practice, how might this noble notion work? Well, here’s one idea that has even less chance of rapid realisation than an 11 per cent pay hike for MPs. We should fill at least some public offices by lottery.

“Sortition”, or the allocation of civic duties by lot, has a distinguished history. If ancient Athens practised it to supply most rotating city offices, then everyone in modern Britain understands it – and almost all respect it. The jury system still commands near-universal consent. People know that jury service modifies the risks of pure “sortition”. It makes provision for reasonable refusal or deferment, for challenges on the grounds of competence or conduct, and above all for guidance from a corps of impartial professionals – in this case, judges. If qualified random selection allows us to send someone down (or not) for life, then why not to decide on speed bumps and swimming pools?
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Brandon Joyce on sortition

Commenter ee points to a couple of videos in which Brandon Joyce makes a presentation about sortition on Channel 9 WPDN Public Distribution Network in Kensington, Philadelphia, PA.

Joyce got to the idea of sortition by reading Rancière. He starts out by pointing out the aristocratic or oligarchical nature of elections. He then puts out up a list of advantages of sortition over elections:

  • Dispenses with elections, campaigns, campaign finance
  • Partially free us from “particratic” polarization, ideologies, loyalties
  • Results in a far more accurate representation of “We, the People.” (“Get politicians out of politics!”)
  • Engages and empowers populace
  • Mitigates the corruption of long-entrenched power an d political class (for a time, at least)

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