2014 review – sortition-related events

Tomas Mancebo highlighted the proposals for using sortition that were part of the constitutional process at Podemos – a party which emerged this year as a highly popular alternative to the established parties in Spain.

Adam Cronkright wrote about his work with Democracy In Practice in Bolivia applying sortition to student governments.

Together with Tomas, I find the fact that sortition was relatively prominently proposed and discussed (although ultimately rejected) as part of the power structure within Podemos as the most significant sortition-related event of 2014.

Other 2014 sortition-related events of significance were:

  • Russell Brand’s anti-electoral message, although originally announced in 2013, continued to resonate and generate largely outraged responses throughout 2014.
  • The idea of sortition continued to be actively discussed in French. A new French movie – J’ai pas voté – featured a string of critics of electoralism and sortition advocates. Etienne Chouard and David Van Reybrouck joined forces in April for a conference called “The Tired Democracy”.
  • While Chouard’s more militant message seems to be limited to French media, Van Reybrouck’s softer message made it through the language barrier and was featured on the BBC.
  • An empirical study by Gilens and Page indicating that median (as measure by income) public opinion has very little effect on policy in the U.S. got significant media attention. Another study, by Norton and Kiatpongsan, showing that there is little association between people’s expectations (and perceptions) about inequality and reality was widely discussed as well.
  • Ever eager to find ways to legitimize itself, established power made exploratory maneuvers to exploit the idea of sortition.

Happy new year and best wishes to all!

2014 review – statistics

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

2014 Page views Posts Comments
Jan 2,038 11 179
Feb 2,370 8 110
Mar 1,975 7 76
Apr 2,890 13 269
May 2,956 5 265
June 2,403 8 119
July 2,552 14 205
Aug 1,950 3 71
Sept 2,022 8 91
Oct 2,511 10 105
Nov 2,490 8 108
Dec (to 28th) 2,318 10 183
Total 28,475 105 1,781

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

Posts were made by 11 authors during 2014. (There were, of course, many other authors quoted and linked to.)

There are currently 188 email and WordPress followers of this blog. In addition there are 83 Twitter followers (@Klerotarian) and 50 Facebook followers.

Searching for “distribution by lot” (with quotes) using Google returns Equality-by-Lot as the second result (out of “about 20,600 results”), as well as the third result. Searching for “sortition” returns Equality-by-Lot as the 5th result (out of “about 73,900 results”).

“The whole concept of democracy rests on the same premises that are used as objections to the real practice of democracy”

Some highlights from another online discussion of sortition:

Sortition or selection by lot was used in ancient Greece and is currently used to form juries. My question is whether this should be extended to choose our local councillors and state politicians.

Absolutely! The best possible government is one that has to live with its own decisions, rather than handing decisions down for others to carry out, pay for and suffer the consequences, while the rules themselves are exempt. If all citizens may, at any time, be called upon to administer the state, it becomes a duty of all citizens, rather than the privilege of a few.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren could be a sortition spokesperson

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recent remarks on the Senate floor have been viewed half a million times. She decries the coziness of the big banks with government and names names, coming close to Russell Brand and unknowingly making a case for the use of lot.

The questions these sort of sharp, honest protests raise are the following. Must someone as sophisticated as Sen. Warren draw the connection between contributor-driven electioneering and corruption or could one simply attribute it to the acts of an unscrupulous few who break the rules? When does a critic of a system ceased to simply criticize the system’s non-conformity to its own ideals and begin to question the system itself?

Sortition proposals in Spanish?

Does anyone here know of a list of sortition proposals in Spanish?

¿Sabe alguien donde podría encontrar una lista de propuestas sobre el sorteo en español?

Paper about sortition and the executive branch

Earlier this year I began a discussion thread about what changes to the executive branch would complement an allotted legislature, since the sortition literature I know of seems to say so little about the executive branch. At the time, Terry Bouricius and I were working on a paper on that subject for an online publication called the Systems Thinking World Journal. The paper was recently published, and is available online at this address – http://stwj.systemswiki.org/?p=1717.

Here is the part of the paper that summarizes the proposal (note: we are assuming that the legislative branch is organized according to Terry’s “multibody sortition” design).

Chief Executive, Department Heads, and Hiring Panels

The Chief Executive. The President, Prime Minister, Governor, Mayor, etc. — would have substantially less power than she or he usually does today. The Chief Executive of a jurisdiction would be primarily an administrator and a policy advisor, not a policy maker – similar to the role of City Manager or City Administrator, used in many U.S. municipalities. The legislative branch would make most policy decisions. The primary tasks of the Chief Executive, and executive branch department heads, would be to manage implementation of policies, to advise about policies from the perspective of implementation, and to propose policy options at the request of the legislative branch. In actual practice the distinction between policy and administration would often be “fuzzy” and contested, but the decisions would be made based on the principle of separating policy from administration.

The Chief Executive would have no power to veto legislation, or to enact “quasi-legislation” (as Presidents do in the U.S. through executive orders, for example). In the same way, department heads could not make policy by unilaterally writing regulations – the legislative branch would be the final decision-maker, unless this power was expressly delegated for a specific purpose and for a defined period, and allowed by the Rules Council. However, the Chief Executive and department heads would play important roles in advising the legislative branch about legislation, and in making proposals for legislation or regulations at the request of the legislative branch.

While Chief Executives and department heads could be removed from office at any time (as described below), there would be no need for term limits. Good executives might serve for decades.
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Wilding’s Multibody Sortition in the UK

In a Huffington Post article a few days ago, Martin Wilding introduced the public to the idea of allotted panels and assemblies in a scheme somewhat similar to that of Terry Bouricius. He addressed the typical objections to sortition and urged people to organize local meetups to discuss the idea.

Wilding calls for local Community Assemblies consisting of deliberative Forums and voting Plebiscaries, a judicial Advocacy, and a Citizen’s Advice Bureau–mostly selected by lot I believe.

What if you could vote to exchange your right to vote for an equal opportunity to participate directly in government? How about if that meant an end to the political parties of which the data suggests you’re unlikely to be a member and the career politicians in whom opinion polls suggest you have no trust?


The status quo is not sacrosanct. The rules by which we are governed are not set in stone. If you feel your representatives don’t, in fact, represent you, you have the means to change the system that keeps them in business.

Or you could just carry on voting for the least unappealing option and hope that somehow things will change of their own accord.

There were a few comments on the comment thread of the article. I haven’t seen if there have been any responses elsewhere online. This could be a good place to discuss the scheme suggested and the article’s reception.

Call for 2014 review input and award nominations

As in the past years (2013, 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.

This year I had the idea of initiating a yearly award for the most notable sortition-related article, essay or activity (or maybe a few awards covering a few categories). The award I am thinking of is mostly honorary rather than material (with maybe a token gift). Comments regarding the award(s) idea and nominations are also hereby solicited.

Malkin: Reviving sortition, first within the parties

Elections in Israel are in the offing again. Prof. Irad Malkin, a professor of Ancient History in Tel Aviv University and winner of the 2014 Israel Prize for history, again offers sortition to the readers of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

Lottery instead of voting, like in Athens

In these days, in which parties are preparing for elections, especially in view of the increase of the electoral threshold, an exhausting process of political fighting, deals, backstabbing and ideological infighting can be expected. Even if a new party is formed and wins seats in the Knesset, residues of bitterness and animosity that have accumulated during the formation struggle will remain. This problem can be solved – greatly shortening the process and dissolving the conflicts in advance – by adopting a mechanism that was used in ancient Athens, the city that gave us democracy.

In the Athenian democracy people were selected by lottery to most positions in the executive, religious and judicial organization. […] The difference between oligrachy and democracy, say Aristotle, is that oligarchy has elections while democracy has the lottery.

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What is a Grand Jury and why is it so controversial?

It would be very disappointing to find that the jury principal was fatally flawed, not the sure defence of the rights of the individual against the over-mighty power of the State that we have always believed.

A Grand Jury seems (for us) a superb idea. Following a significant and contested incident a random selection of 23 (?) citizens is summoned to hear the evidence, debate it and decide on a course of action. Rather than stilling protest, in the US the Grand Jury seems to foment it.

So could I ask our US contributors to explain (and I apologise for using this forum for FAQs).

Is a Grand Jury (GJ) as I’ve described it above?

What is wrong with the process that makes its verdicts so un-acceptable?