Allotted bodies better than referenda

Two new articles argue that allotted bodes are a better democratic tool than referenda. Both criticize the referenda system for asking the public to make uninformed decisions and both invoke the Athenian precedent. There are also some differences for the sharp-eyed reader to pick out.

Simon Threlkeld writes in Truthout:

Let Juries Legislate: Why Citizen Juries Are Better Than the Ballot Initiative for Citizen Lawmaking

Twenty-four US states have the ballot initiative. Unfortunately, the process is heavily skewed in favor of rich interests and unsuitable for making informed decisions. A much better method of citizen lawmaking is needed.


Classical Athens, often called the birthplace of democracy, sheds light on how citizen lawmaking can be done in an informed, fair and highly democratic way. In Athens, much of the decision-making was done by various juries chosen from the citizens by lottery. This kept a wide range of decisions in the hands of the citizens, prevented elite rule and provided a more informed version of citizen rule than popular vote.

Keith Sutherland writes in openDemocracy:

The Brexit lottery

On June 23, Britain will go to the polls to decide whether or not the country should remain a member of the European Union. David Cameron’s in–out referendum on EU membership is, ostensibly, about finding out what the people want. But there is a better, and more democratic, way.


Referendums are swayed by irrelevant issues, are “very blunt instruments” and the outcome would be “a lottery”, [Peter Mandelson] said. In a sense, Lord Mandelson is right – the experience of countries like Ireland, where referendums are commonplace, suggests that they are often used to give the government of the day a kicking, rather than deal with the issue at hand. And yet a different kind of lottery could be more representative of public opinion than a referendum vote.
Continue reading