Tim Dunlop: What if voting actually hampers democratic governance?

Tim Dunlop has been reading David van Reybrouk:

A ‘lottery’ electoral system could break our malaise

Perhaps it’s time to overhaul our voting system and instigate a form of “lottery” whereby our MPs are elected on the basis of random sampling. It may not be perfect, but neither is our current system, writes Tim Dunlop.

The basic logic of voting is that it is the method by which we determine the will of the people. Free elections are therefore understood to be the cornerstone – the defining characteristic – of democratic governance.

No vote, no democracy is just about a truism.

But what if that’s wrong? What if voting actually hampers democratic governance and is leading to undemocratic outcomes?

What if all the stuff we complain about in regard to our politicians – that they are unrepresentative, that they are out of touch, that they are in the pocket of various vested interests, that all they are really interested in is getting re-elected – what if all those problems are actually a by-product of voting itself?

In fact, Dunlop does a better job of presenting the idea of sortition than van Reybrouk himself. van Raybrouk never quite manages to point out what is wrong with elections. He spins a convoluted story in which elections were supposedly once democratic but are now no longer sufficiently so. This story may provide van Reybrouk with some sort of cover for his anti-electoralist heresy, but it makes his point incoherent. Dunlop, on the other hand, drops this supposedly historical argument and his introductory paragraphs above make the argument for sortition clearly and succinctly.

11 Responses

  1. The French documentary “J’ai pas voté” is subtitled in English now, please share it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYYR0tfcSQs


  2. Hi ee,

    Yes – this was announced here: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/%E2%80%8F%E2%80%8Ejai-pas-vote/#comment-13937.

    Are you in touch with any of the French sortition advocates? I would love to have a meeting and see if we can collaborate and have an ongoing conversation.


  3. Yes I am! Indeed if you got fb you can exchange with them on that group : https://www.facebook.com/groups/DemocraticSeed/?fref=ts
    By the way, the movement is really GROWING in France, Belgium and Switzerland! (I think in the UK as well, with the recent movement Occupy Democracy – which has a stupid name…)
    For the documentary, maybe reposting it would be useful, as when you published it, it was not yet subtitled into English?


  4. ee,

    Can you tell us more, or provide links about activity in Switzerland? Activities in Belgium, France, Australia, Canada, Spain and elsewhere have been discussed here… but I haven’t seen anything on die Schweiz.


  5. The facebook site (and it’s links) appears to be devoted to the Thoughts of Chairman Etienne.


  6. From the Facebook page Writing a Better Constitution:

    “Every citizen, starting with the age of 18 (?) designates amongst the people he/she knows 3 (?) individuals with qualities compatible with the common interest and greater good.”

    How do you locate these idealised creatures — spot the halo? And what is to prevent citizens simply choosing those who share their own selfish interests?

    “From this list of individuals, we discard the high and low values: those who have been designated only a few times and those who have been designated a vast majority of times.”

    This would be childishly easy to corrupt — political parties or pressure groups would simply consult their membership lists and then flood the list with cross-nominations. The result would be direct legislation by political activists. If Chouard’s disciples genuinely believed in the wisdom/virtue of ordinary people then they would drop all references to nomination and establish a statistically-representative sample of the citizen body (warts and all). However, as the left discovered to its horror during the second half of the twentieth century, “the people” would prefer to go shopping than deliberate over the common interest and the general good, hence the need to select the best of the bunch. This is beginning to sound a lot like election, except that in the latter case candidates have to nail their colours to the mast, rather than rely on being perceived as generally good and commonly interesting.


  7. ee – why is the FB group closed?

    (BTW, feel free to ignore Sutherland – he is our resident talking parrot, pretending to generate human language but without being hampered by the thought process.)


  8. Thanks Yoram, I’ll treasure that, particularly in the light of this year’s Monty Python revival. I’m reminded of a review of one of our books as “a brainless slab of leftist bigotry”. The author (a conservative “wet”) was so pleased with this epithet that he framed it and put it over his desk.


  9. Yeah. I wouldn’t mind reading it. Too bad I don’t have a Facebook.

    “(BTW, feel free to ignore Sutherland – he is our resident talking parrot, pretending to generate human language but without being hampered by the thought process.)”

    Now that’s completely uncalled for.


  10. On top of the corruption issue, the democratic theorist Lisa Disch (U Michigan) is presenting a paper at our university next week in which (citing Iris Young) she points to the dangers of leaving democratic representation down to Habermasian deliberative interaction:

    “[D]emocratic politics is preferably achieved by means of such [elective] institutions because in all but the smallest of meetings, forms of informal “de facto representation” will inevitably emerge; these are frequently “arbitrary” and can be deeply antidemocratic, particularly when those who are shy, more thoughtful, or less confident “cede political power to arrogant loudmouths whom no one chose to represent them” (Young 2000, 125).

    Disch doesn’t specify the top limit to the maximum size of the group, but it’s generally seen as 10-12, which would be entirely unrepresentative from a statistical perspective (the only justification for allotment as a representative process). Hence sortition could only ever be part of a mixed constitution (assuming we don’t want to cede political power to arrogant loudmouths).


  11. […] 2014 Tim Dunlop has just been introduced to the idea of sortition by David Van Reybrouck. He was “not completely convinced by his […]


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