Charlie Douglass: Guaranteeing gender equality

A post by Charlie Douglass.

Democracy we are told is government by the people. What if many of the people aren’t involved? What if some have a much stronger voice than others?

If a government is to act on behalf of people of every colour, gender, age, and wealth status, then we must either rely on politicians ignoring self-interest completely, or find a way in which a house of parliament can have its members chosen very differently to today. Bias matters because today our parliaments under-represent many groups. Women are under-represented and although some change is happening, the change is slow. Why should the men who are already there be the ones who decide how fast the change is? Why is there so little effort to represent people from below the poverty line?

If you could draw equal representation from across society into a house of parliament, then self-interest matters much less. If a parliament was half female, half male, and contained people from every type of wealth status, then many really important issues would see quick and effective change. Poverty has the attention of many of us, but without power not much is changing. When there is a vote which gives voice to all, then the bias of media barons and political donations can be put in the trash-can where it belongs.

In many countries politics has two houses of government, and the proposal here is to replace the one is which the nation’s leader does not stand. In the USA, France and Australia this is the Senate. In the UK this is the House of Lords, and in Germany it is The Bundesrat. After two terms perhaps this new senate could replace both houses, or the second house could be replaced by sortition also – forming two houses.
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#LordsReform – Let the People Decide

From the Sortition Foundation blog:

Sortition certainly sounds good to us – but how do we get from here to there?

#LordsReform Let the People Decide

The Sortition Foundation has released a Draft Strategy Document outlining some ideas. The first campaign proposal is a call for a Citizens’ Parliament on House of Lords Reform ( The campaign, to be officially launched later this year, will call on the UK government to constitute and empower a 650-member, random though representative sample of ordinary citizens to consider, research, deliberate on, and then make a House of Lords Reform proposal, to then be put to a national referendum. You can already sign the open letter calling for a Citizens’ Parliament on Lords Reform.

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Populism and Kleristocracy

A recent exchange on this forum included the following claims:

TA: The early Populists have been much misunderstood and caricatured, including by Hofstadter. If “populist” is to be defined non-arbitrarily, its meaning is a leader whose policy positions for the most part agree with those of the vast majority of the population. Bernie Sanders is a populist, Trump is not.

TB: I’ve been a personal friend and political ally of Sanders for over 40 years, and I agree that the “populist” label fits Sanders based on the historic use of the term dating back to the People’s Party. However, I think the term has been so over-used (and misused) by the mass media that it isn’t particularly useful any more. Any independent-minded politician, whether a leftist charismatic visionary, a demagogue, or proto-fascist is assigned the label.

According to Cas Mudde, most people use populism as a Kampfbegriff (battle cry) to defame a political opponent. The term is in fact just as applicable to politicians and political parties on the left and the right, Trump and Sanders, Front National and Podemos. In an article for Open Democracy Mudde claims that

populism is best defined as a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté general (general will) of the people.

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The representativity of a random sample: the need for mandatory participation

The unexpected Conservative majority in the 2015 UK general election has led to considerable agonising in the polling industry. Why were the polls — which consistently predicted a hung parliament, or even a Labour victory — so wrong? A polling industry enquiry has come to some interim conclusions, here paraphrased by the BBC political editor, Laura Kuennsberg:

Pollsters didn’t ask enough of the right people how they planned to vote. Proportionately they asked too many likely Labour voters, and not enough likely Conservatives.

Nobody is suggesting that this bias was intentional — it was the accidental by-product of the polling methodology which, rather than drawing a random sample and then knocking on doors (the gold standard, but very expensive), relied heavily on telephone and online surveys. The problem with phone surveys, according to Martin Boon from ICM, is that out of 30,000 random numbers only around generally 2,000 agree to participate. This sample is anything but representative:

Adam Drummond, from Opinium, suggested that the people who agreed to be interviewed were so politically enthusiastic that the would even vote in elections for the European Parliament. . . This seems like a Groucho Marx problem — people answering the phone and agreeing to answer questions about their political opinions automatically means that they are too politically engaged to be representative.

Online polling is even worse:

Online polls are answered by a database of volunteers who have signed up to be on a panel and who the company knows a lot about. When the company is commissioned to do a poll it can be sure that the people it is asking have the same features as the whole population in — for example, the proportion of men and women, or the age profile or income distribution.

However what stratified sampling does not do is to control for the level of political engagement, so

The online polls came out with much the same inaccuracies as the phone ones. Does people’s willingness to be on a panel automatically make them unrepresentative?

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The difficulty of insuring accurate randomness

This article points to the problem of how to produce true representation in juries.

Dearbhail McDonald: The verdict is in – our jury selection process is a farce

Juries are meant to be representative of society as a whole. However, they are anything but, writes Dearbhail McDonald

Trial by jury is one of the last remaining sacred cows in the criminal justice system.

Born by accident to replace trial by ordeal and duelling, amongst other dispute resolution techniques, the random selection of 12 peers is still prized as the only anchor by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.

Lord Devlin, the celebrated British judge whose father was from Co Tyrone, famously described jury trial as the lamp that shows that freedom lives.

Here’s the salient point:

For the most part, trial by a jury of one’s peers is as unquestioned as it is innate.

But our current system of selecting juries makes a mockery of jury trial as a bulwark against State power and other anomalies.

To fulfil their constitutional mandate, juries (which only featured women from as late as 1976) are meant to be representative and jurors drawn from a complete cross-section of the community.

They are anything but.

In practice, the burden of jury duty is disproportionately borne by Dubliners; the young, the old and retired, the unemployed, civil servants or those who can manage to undertake the difficult task. The recent empanelling of a 15-strong jury … brought home to me the challenges of achieving the “constitutional completeness” of the representative jury.

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Democratic Innovation on Postwaves


Adam Cronkright writes:

This is Adam Cronkright, cofounder of Democracy In Practice, an organization that has been experimenting with random selection of representatives in student governments in Bolivia for the past two years. Independently from Democracy In Practice, I’m putting out a call for contributors and readers of Equality by Lot to participate in and help beta test a new online platform that randomly distributes decision-making/moderating power and responsibility among its users.

I’ve been doing some beta testing for a website called Postwaves. The site is inspired by the Wisdom of Crowds (popularized by James Surowiechi) and uses sortition to share moderator responsibilities evenly among all the members of a forum. That is, each post gets randomly and anonymously sent out to a small portion of forum users who vote independently and anonymously on whether the post is relevant to the large group (NOT on whether or not they agree with the post). If it receives a certain threshold (say 50% of those randomly asked to assess it find that it is relevant) it get’s made public on the forum. So in essence, they are testing a sortition-based, scalable way for online groups to moderate themselves horizontally. The idea is to more effectively filter out noise (i.e. irrelevant content) and allow the best content to be most visible regardless of who posted it (celebrity vs. normal person) or whether the first person(s) that read it gave it a thumbs up or a thumbs down (which can have a disproportionate effect on the opinions of those that follow).
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The Paradox of Democratic Selection: Is Sortition Better than Voting?

A draft book chapter by Anthoula Malkopoulou:

Sortition, or the selection of political officers by lot, has its antecedent in the direct democratic tradition of ancient Athens. Its transfer into a modern context of representative democracy poses rightful scepticism not only about the practical difficulties, but more so about the theoretical inconsistencies that arise. Modern systems of political representation are based on the aristocratic idea of ‘government by the best’, who are to be selected through a competitive call for candidates (Manin 1997). Sortition, on the other hand, replaces this aristocratic criterion of competition and evaluative election with the democratic mechanics of direct and equal distribution of political office by chance. Hence, the very expression ‘democratic (s)election’ includes a paradoxical contradiction in terms, between the democratic concept of equal access to public office and the aristocratic idea of government by the (s)elected best.

My aim in this chapter is to shed some light into this contradiction by critically discussing the benefits and pitfalls of using sortition today, comparing it throughout the chapter with voting and the general effects of electoral representation. More specifically, my arguments are divided in four sections. I begin by addressing the reasons that drive klerotarians away from electoral representation (1). Next, I consider alternative modes of political ‘outsourcing’, such as the inclusion of civil society actors or the use of quotas (2). I continue by discussing the democratic legitimacy of sortition by dividing the subject in two questions: (a) political equality and (b) political participation (3). Last, I focus on the type of political representation that the lot produces, viewed from the perspectives of descriptiveness, authorization and accountability (4). In conclusion, I suggest that lotteries may offer valuable improvement to current practices of democratic selection, but only if special measures are taken to compensate for the limitations they entail.

Full text (uncorrected draft: not for citation).

Sortition Introduction for 21st Century Democracy Conference in Alexandria, Egypt

The Way Forward – by Terry Bouricius

This is the original full draft of an introductory presentation intended to prepare participants of the 21st Century Democracy conference hosted by the Library of Alexandria for the subsequent day’s sessions largely focused on sortition. Due to earlier panels running overtime, this full speech was never presented, and only a few key points were made in an introduction the next day. Note that some underlining and ALL CAPS appear as emphasis aids for reading the speech aloud.

Discussions about the problems of democracy tend to focus on the problems of the elections.

A fundamental point that needs to be understood is that elections are not the same thing as democracy, and are at best one tool for approaching the democratic ideal. Clearly, a system of free and fair elections is a vast improvement over a dictatorship or one-party state. But the ideal of democracy goes far deeper.

The democratic ideal can be summed up as government of, by and for the people. But modern democracies all have government BY a political class that is distinctly different than the people (mostly male, older, wealthier, better educated, etc.)… and whether that government is truly FOR the people is always a matter of debate.

John Adams, one of the founders of the United States wrote in 1776 that a legislature “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason and act like them.”

The ideal of democracy is that the government should make the same decisions that the people as a whole would make IF they could all have the time, motivation, information, attention, expert advice, access to conflicting points of view, fact-checking of faulty assumptions, and good facilitation. Obviously it is impossible to have all of the people do this on even one issue, let alone the vast number of public policy decisions made every year. But we know exactly how to achieve this ideal by combining the principles of scientific sampling to select a statistically accurate representative mini-public, with good decision-making procedures. The random selection of public officials like this is known as “sortition.”

This would be government BY the ordinary people, rather than by a political class with only the CONSENT of the people.
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