Vincent Azoulay: An electoral campaign in reverse

An article by Vincent Azoulay, professor of ancient history in the University of Paris-Est/Marne-la-Vallée, in france culture (original in French, my translation [corrections welcome]):

An electoral campaign in reverse: the ostracism

Let us start from a finding that is at first surprising. We possess no detailed record of an electoral campaign in Athens – despite it being history’s first democracy! There are multiple reasons for this: first, elections may not have necessarily been important events, being considered an aristocratic selection mechanism, being the opposite of the more egalitarian mechanism of sortition. Most importantly, when elections were held – when selecting generals, for example – they were most often if not unanimous then at least less-contentious: because it was never for selecting a single individual, a bitterly competitive affair, but a board of ten magistrates, which made the competition not as harsh.

To find the real electoral campaigns in Athens, with their maneuvers and intrigue, we have to turn to a celebrated institution, the ostracism, which may be considered as an election in reverse, as it was for politicians who would definitely not be elected!
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A Graphical Illustration of Representation

How accurate will representation be with sortition? To illustrate this I wrote a short program to mimic choosing assemblies at random, and to show how members of a particular group or class are represented. In this example each assembly has 500 members, and the group forms 50% of the population. Typical output looks like this (I have left out twelve pretty boring lines):

Total number of assemblies drawn 400
Population 10 000 000
Assembly size 500
Proportion of class in population 0.500
Expected no of class members in assembly 250.0

251 242 244 251 263 237 257 241 239 232 256 235 244 253 229 241 257 256 250 268
276 241 222 267 270 256 247 …
… 238 244 243 259 263 245 216 260 235 250 240 241 245
227 271 249 263 224 237 251 238 249 263 260 238 247 255 239 243 255 254 237 249
242 246
265 232 252 249 241 259 239 268 252 247 242 227 246 240 237 245 240 241
263 250 241 247 257 278 248 257 257 244 236 256 233 257 243 260 263 250 238 235
251 246 260 267 257 250 258 254 247 242 250 255 250 235 273 255 247 252 260 240
261 235 250 248 247 252 233 266 252 252 257 261 253 258 272 252 249 234 261 235
270 249 251 244 247 256 253 248 239 258 256 250 245 273 253 246 253 247 259 234

Greatest deviation from the expected number of class members = 34.0 or 6.8% of assembly.
Standard Deviation (sigma) = 10.7.
Mean no of class members for all assemblies = 249.60.
2 × sigma = 21.4 or 4.3% of assembly. 95.5% of deviations will be less than this.
3 × sigma = 32.1 or 6.4% of assembly. 99.7% of deviations will be less than this.
Number of over-representations = 182.
Number of under-representations = 198.
Greatest number of consecutive over- or under-representations = 9 (in 400 assemblies).

Some explanations are necessary here. For simplicity, the results in the table above are presented as if all members were drawn at the same time, but there is no such assumption in the program code, and we might regard the results above as a series of snapshots of the assembly composition taken every time its membership is completely renewed. In this case I have taken the proportion of the class in the total population as 0.5.
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Against elections, the video

A surprisingly militant video from David Van Reybrouck.

Crowdfunding Anthony Barnett’s WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit

unboundAnthony Barnett’s new book WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit is available for pre-order on Unbound. He writes:

Dear Fellow Kleroterians!

Thank you for permitting me to join you on this blog. I’m writing with a shameless request, but in this post-Brexit world being polite and submissive and deferential in a British way seems to be for the birds. Towards the end of the last century I wrote a paper suggesting that a section of the upper chamber should be selected by lot. Peter Carty got in touch with me, as he had been writing a paper on similar lines. We developed it into a publication for Demos, then directed by Ian Christie, published in 1998. Ten years later we turned it into a book, The Athenian Option: radical reform of the House of Lords, published by Imprint.

There was a moment I’ll never forget – which we write about in the book. In order to put replacing the Lords into the long grass, Tony Blair created a Royal Commission in 1999 to take evidence across the country. Because our Demos paper had caused a stir we were invited to give evidence. On the way into the session I found myself in a small lift with one of its senior members, Douglas Hurd, at that point Baron Hurd of Westwell. He had been close to Edward Heath, had been Foreign Secretary under John Major, who he had failed to beat for the Tory leadership. A grandee, I think, was the term at the time. the very opposite of the kind of regular person who would have been chosen had the Commission been selected by lot.
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What’s the Point of Lotteries


I’ve done an interview for the BBC Radio show “The Inquiry.” The episode is now online under the title “What’s the Point of Lotteries?” You can find it here:

Most of the first half is concerned with lotteries as a form of gambling, but my interview (which starts at 17:23, in part 4) focuses upon the social and political uses of lotteries. I don’t think it came off half-bad.

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly on abortion: democratisation or dodging responsibility?


This was published on Open Democracy last week: The Irish Citizens’ Assembly on abortion: democratisation or dodging responsibility?

I find it very exciting, that the Irish government is returning for their second assembly using sortition – this time without politicians. Although we’ll have to wait and see what they do with the results.

It’s due to start next month.

Democracy talk – Episode 3: Brexit

Patrick Chalmers and I are offering our conversation regarding Brexit and related issues.

Cons of Election by Lot

Joshua Laferriere is graduating in December from Cal State University Dominguez Hills (Business Analytics). He is a hobbyist in philosophy and classical history with a focus on the Greeks but covering most Mediterranean civilizations. He has a basic understanding of voting systems (ironically). He has arrived at an independent conclusion that allotment is the best form of expression of the “will of the people” (the idea coming from statistics first, Greece second). He has done some work in the field of information systems and follows US politics closely.

There are a lot of pro’s to Election by Lot.  For sure it beats elective democracy.  It draws its representatives from the pool of people, effectively doing away with partisan politics and lobbyists.

Obviously we have issues like Socrates being executed.  So we have a potential for the mob rule being easily swayed this way and that.  We have the Sophist movement which was spearheaded by Protagoras who believed rhetoric was the key to success in life, because it allowed one to sway public opinion.

Plato was rebelling against Athenian Democracy with his work the Republic, some of it directed at the very issues the Sophists were manipulating.  What is interesting is the Demagogue was something that benefited from the ideas of Sophistry (sway public opinion with fancy arguments, but not necessarily arguments that are for the betterment of the people) in a system that didn’t even have elections.  Where as today there is more ripe for abuse by sophistry than in Athens where the rhetoric abuse was just kept within the voting on issues itself.

The Peloponnesian war ended before the Republic was written (by at least 20 years) and Athenian Democracy was in decline.  After the fall to Sparta, the 30 tyrants were instated. Athens had reclaimed their democracy from the 30 tyrants (miraculously), and shortly after condemned Socrates to Plato’s dismay. Socrates had rubbed this democracy the wrong way with his constant inquiries (probably because of his gadfly status, but also his penchant for questioning the established norm, which certainly would have rubbed the 30 tyrants the wrong way).  This may have been a backlash against old Athenian inquiry and questioning the norms during the Athenian Empire’s expansive golden age.  This new reduced Athens probably wanted a scapegoat for their past ways, to set an example against those who try to push the envelope of accepted norms.
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Sortition finally in the public eye? A report-back from APSA in Philadelphia

The American Political Science Association’s annual meeting ran Sept 1-4th. Several happenings there indicate that sortition is now in the (political science) public eye.

On day 1, during a panel called “A good year for deliberative theory, 20 years later” Jane Mansbridge mentioned selection by lot several times, adding that the public needs more education on the concepts of representative samples and minipublics.

On day 2, during a panel on majoritarianism, Jeremy Waldron (I am told) raised a copy of Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections and mockingly shook it.

On the closing morning of the convention, a roundtable titled “Lotteries and the Transformation of Democratic Theory” included Alex Guerrero, Hélène Landemore, Claudio Lopez-Guerra, Peter Stone, Arash Abizadeh, Alex Kirshner, and Emilee Chapman. In the audience was Jim Fishkin (who made a long intervention, mentioning an allotted legislature he was asked to design for Mongolia, as well as Deliberative Polls in several other countries–Ghana, Japan, China–then quickly exited), myself and several others.

In addition, several panels throughout the convention involved political psychologist, scientist or theorists addressing minipublics, assessing deliberation, etc. Using the online agenda allows you to search the panels by keyword, if you’re interested in the specifics.

During the roundtable, Peter used the word “sortinista” to mean someone who thinks ONLY a pure lottocracy would be a true democracy. Is this how you understand it? I think of a sortinista as an advocate of SOME use of sortition in a democratic process, perhaps at some key stage of decision-making.

G1000 Kick Off in the UK – Cambridge, September 24th

against-elections.jpgIf Brexit proved anything, it proved that what Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels say in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government is true. People do not vote after careful consideration of facts and options, they vote to affirm their membership of various social groups and express agreement with the opinions of those groups, which may have little or nothing to do with the issue at hand being voted upon.

As David Van Reybrouck expressed so eloquently in his article, Why elections are bad for democracy (an extract from his book Against Elections) there is something very wrong with voting and elections and there is a much better way to do democracy: select a representative random sample of ordinary people, provide them with balanced information, and let them deliberate together to find out not what people do think, but what they would think, if given the time and information together with a good deliberative process.

From 11am to 4pm on September 24th, in Cambridge at the Six Bells Pub, a group of volunteers will meet to kick-off the process of bringing Van Reybrouck’s brainchild – a G1000 – to the UK for the first time. The dream is to bring a randomly selected group of 1000 residents together for one day in early 2017, to deliberate and decide together what is best for Cambridge.

But we need your help to make it a reality. We need people to donate their time and their energy to help organise such an event. We will need fundraisers, social media ambassadors, technicians, volunteers, cooks and a whole host of other help. Can you be one of these people? If so please join us, get in touch or come along to the G1000 Kick-off in Cambridge on September 24th.

[This post is from the Sortition Foundation blog:]