Criteria and two proposals for the use of sortition in politics

The Dutch organization has published a document (Dutch, German, Français, English) with criteria for the application of sortition in a political system and with two proposals for the use of sortition in the European political system.

The criteria deal with how the agenda is set, the sampling system, the size of the allotted chamber, its service term, its powers – advisory or binding and the potential for manipulation.

The two proposals are:

  • a “transitional” system in which the size of an allotted chamber is determined by the number of voters indicating support for this chamber during elections, and
  • a ‘European Citizens Jury’ – an allotted chamber set up as a review chamber next to the European parliament.

From the introduction:

According to historical sources, our political system was developed to protect the elite AGAINST democracy (sovereignty of the people). An “Electoral Aristocracy” was installed (18th century). Nevertheless, this can be seen as a positive evolution compared with monarchy.

Later on, some “democratic” elements were introduced, for instance “free”, or so called “democratic”, elections with universal suffrage, the equality principle, freedom of speech, freedom of organization, free press etc. However, some of those elements were moderated or abolished afterwards.

But a “democratic element” is not yet a “democracy”. Freedom of organization may be a “democratic element” without which a democracy cannot exist, but on its own it is no democracy. Hence “free elections”, to appoint a governor for instance, may be a democratic element, but on their own they are by no means a democracy. Furthermore, our political system of representation by elected representatives originates from the Roman Republican system and not from the Athenian Democracy. Calling our political system a “democracy” is deliberately misleading propaganda.

The rise of political parties, which have in fact taken over legislative power, enabled lobbyists to work more directly. Thus, power concentration of legislative power and economic and financial interests was achieved, eliminating the last remains of democracy in our political system. One could say that history is repeating itself. The Roman Empire collapsed due to internal decadence and the emergence of a few wealthy and powerful people – this is apparently inherent to the electoral representative system.

Some countries, as well as many cities and communities, have already made the choice for a more democratic political system more than a century ago, by introducing the binding referendum with the citizens’ initiative. Other countries made this choice more recently. The best known examples are Switzerland and half of the states in the US.

But here we notice an evolution towards (or a demand for) further democratization as well, such as with the introduction of a sortition-based parliament. The main reason of this aim is the ever increasing power of the financial and economic interests and their influence on the legislative power. The system of sortition is based on the statistical fact that a sample, which was selected in a scientific manner, gives a faithful image of the whole population. As a result, decisions made by this group are representative for the whole population.

29 Responses

  1. It is written in page 8: “No mixed panels of professional (i.e. politicians) participants and people appointed by sortition”. Why not? I’ve never got a satisfactory justification.


  2. While individual cases of mixed bodies may happen to work, there are serious likely problems in terms of the psychology (leadership -followership – status – domination – cognitive free-riding – etc.) A deliberative body should be made up of formally equal members to allow free deliberation, and there is a marked danger of inequality in which some members are seen as “more equal than others.”


  3. In most cases that I know of mixed panels are a proposal of politicians or people who probably want to maintain the power of decision making where it is for the moment, with politicians, political parties and lobbyists with only one objective: maintaining the status quo.
    What is the most important property of a ‘political system’? It is trust.
    In the past decennia, trust in the electoral representative political system is going down (Edelman trust barometer) so it is normal that those who are involved in the electoral system will try to improve this with all kind of minor adjustments that changes the least possible in the execution of power. An additional possibility is that it becomes possible to discredit the sortition system by showing that it doesn’t work as thought or beneficial results are marginal.
    Nevertheless it will be difficult to prove that mixed panels are not at all a ‘democratic instrument’, but it is not impossible.

    We have the example of the Washington state mixed panel that decides about the salaries of elected officials. ( Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials )

     The Commission consists of 17 unpaid, citizen members selected by two methods:
    Ten members are randomly selected by the Secretary of State from the rolls of registered voters, one from each Congressional District.
    Seven members are selected jointly by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives; one each from:
    private institutions of higher education;
    professional personnel management;
    the law;
    organized labor; and two members are recommended to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker, one by the chair of the Washington State Personnel Resources Board and the other by the presidents of the state’s four-year institutions of higher education.

    I presume that this example is a worst case scenario, for me at least. 10 citizens appointed by sortition can’t be ‘representative’ by any standard, even when scientifically stratified under ‘neutral’ supervision. And this selected panel is then mixed with all kind of ‘professionals’.

    It would be interesting to compare the results of this panel, when kept secret, with the results of a panel that is descriptive representative and decides after hearing the same experts and politicians. But I suppose this is up to the citizens of Washington.


  4. > 10 citizens appointed by sortition can’t be ‘representative’ by any standard

    Such statements are often made on this forum. In fact, this is far from clear. In the context of setting salaries, 10 people seems acceptable. 20 may be better, but 50 would quite probably be worse, since it would result in spreading decision making power too thinly.


  5. Yoram: >Such statements are often made on this forum. In fact, this is far from clear. In the context of setting salaries, 10 people seems acceptable.

    And wide open to corruption.


  6. I can understand that with a scientific stratification they can get a panel that reflects some ‘diversity’. Lets try (my own guess :-) ) One male, one female, one holebi, one old, one young, one poor, one rich, one living in the city, one from agricultural area, one homeless. In such cases the selected people also have to respond to questionnaires in order to avoid people with a clear point of view about the matter at hand. Even when we accept that all this ‘manipulation’ (called selection) is done with the best intensions in a scientific and neutral way, under supervision, (ref. CDC Jaques Testart in France) there is no way that such a panel is also proportional in his diversity.
    We only can notice that in a state where the time to do the job (Grey) is estimated the same, Nebraska, where salaries of elected officials is subject to referendum is 12.000$ a year and in Washington 45.474$ a year. Arizona is also a ‘gray’ state where salaries are subject to referendum and they have 24.00$ a year.


  7. This is an issue of an overlap of two distinctly different functions of sortition. We have statistical representativity on one hand (which requires far more than ten members, since there is a substantial probability of selecting an extremely UNrepresentative group); and on the other hand impartiality (nobody was able to hand pick people who would favor a particular proposal). For SOME purposes all we need is impartiality and sufficient common sense. In the case of legislative salaries it seems unlikely that accurate representation of most demographic traits will matter that much.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In some cases a descriptive representation is indeed not needed. We can refer to the juridical application for this. I have a reference on this in the paper although I dit not study it in dept. Nevertheless I found that the initial main reason to install a citizen jury was the short time the jury was in charge. It would be interesting to compare the results of a descriptive representative jury, not mixed, with the actual design in Washington state. The main reason is the big difference with the referendum decisions. But there may be a lot of other reasons for this difference of course, except from the workload who is estimated the same.


  9. Terry:> nobody was able to hand pick people who would favor a particular proposal.

    I believe the figure of 10 persons has been suggested as the ideal size for a jury to set salaries. How do you propose addressing the problem of ex post corruption?


  10. > which requires far more than ten members, since there is a substantial probability of selecting an extremely UNrepresentative group

    Again, I don’t think this is obvious at all. It really depends on how you define unrepresentative (and to some extent what the decision making mechanism is).


  11. Yoram:> It really depends on how you define unrepresentative

    Terry was explicitly referring to statistical representativity, which would be impossible with a group of 10 randomly-selected persons (in anything other than an extremely crude sense). If that were not the case opinion pollsters could save themselves a lot of money by reducing the size of their samples. You have often claimed that your sortition model is based on statistical representation but you have never really explained what you mean by this (and it is doubly puzzling if you claim that a randomly-selected group of 10 would be statistically representative of the target population).


  12. > referring to statistical representativity which would be impossible with a group of 10 randomly-selected persons

    This of course is so meaningless, it is not even wrong. (Rather typical for you, unfortunately.)


  13. Please explain (for the sake of mathematical ignoramuses like myself and Terry).


  14. What Keith and I are getting at is, for example, suppose an ethnic or racial minority constitutes 30% of the population. If groups of just ten people are randomly drawn, now and again the sample will have NO members of that minority, or a majority of members of the group will be from that minority. If a sample of 400 are drawn instead the likelihood of such extreme unrepresentativeness drops close to zero.


  15. Terry,

    Agreed. Of course we can’t know the relevance of ethnicity, gender or any other population parameter wrt to a salary-setting jury (although socio-economic status is almost certainly a determining factor). Chances are that different samples of 10 persons would return different decisions, so the decision would not represent the considered view of the target population (irrespective of any epistemic considerations). This is what I think we both mean by “statistical” representation, so it would be good to hear from Yoram in what respect this understanding is “so meaningless, it is not even wrong”.


  16. Terry,

    On the issue of the salaries of officials, the presence of a particular ethnic minority in the sample is of no particular importance. What is needed is a reasonably accurate representation of the ideas relating to the appropriate level of salaries. Again, depending on how this notion is defined exactly, and how the body makes its decisions, a 10 people sample may very well be a “representative sample” on this issue.


  17. Yoram:> 10 people sample may very well be a “representative sample” on this issue.

    On the other hand it might not — what one can be sure of is that different samples would contain people with very different ideas and the LLN certainly doesn’t apply to a group of 10. The number is lower than that required for a trial jury and all the latter has to do is to rule on the facts of the matter by evaluating two competing arguments (leaving aside their own ideas). This being the case the sort of body that Yoram has in mind should not be described as a jury — a term which is tossed aroumnd promiscuously on this forum.

    And Yoram still has to tell us exactly what he means by “statistical” representation, as I’ve genuinely no idea if he claims it can refer to a randomly-selected group of 10 persons. All that one can say about such a group is that they are all likely to be human beings (perhaps that’s all that matters?), as even a crude population parameter like gender would not be accurately sampled.


  18. In the case under consideration (setting salaries) I lean towards the idea that accurate statistical representation is not crucial, and that impartiality is the goal. Ten people might be fine. There is no “correct” answer, nor is there even one answer that “society as a whole would make if well informed,” etc. Even one individual person might change her decision depending on the day … one day thinking the median salary in society is appropriate, and on another day thinking a higher salary might protect better against bribery, etc. The goal is to simply assure that those who will be getting the salary are not in control, and that the decision makers are not systematically biased in favor or against those who will be paid. And then, based on real world experience, a subsequent jury might change the salary at the next round to address problems of the salary level set by the previous jury.


  19. If impartiality is the goal in this case then using a ‘mixed’ panel is very questionable. And that was the original question I think. Nevertheless the use of 10 (Washington), 40 (Oregon CIR), 100 (Climate panel luxembourg), 1000 (G1000 Belgium), and so on, all with a very weak explanation and subject of criticism and doubt is in my view a weak spot for the sortition movement that needs to be addressed. For me each choice has to have a strong defence and a clear explanation, that can only be in our (proponents of democracy) benefit in the long term. I still try to find arguments and proof for the use of small panels and in what cases (I start to study the CDC of Jaques Testart) . If I can’t find a good argumentation and defence I stay with the ‘descriptive representative panels’. It is of no use to propose fundamental changes if you don’t have a strong case. That is why we developed the criteria in the first place. We not only have to make strong proposals, we also have to refuse implementations that will harm the sortition idea in the long term. How to convince people if we ourselves don’t believe in what we propose.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I would be happy with impartiality (assuming some defence against ex-post corruption), but my interest is in Yoram clarifying what he means by “statistical” representation, as he appears to be using the term in a different way to everyone else on this forum, where Hanna Pitkin’s definition (of “descriptive” representation) is the accepted one. I think this is important, as it might help prevent us talking (or shouting) past each other in the future. As it stands both Terry and myself stand accused of a usage which is “so meaningless, it is not even wrong”. If we are going to make any progress in the study of sortition then we need to agree a common use of language.


  21. *** Terry Bouricius writes (March 18), about setting salaries of public officials : « There is no “correct” answer, nor is there even one answer that “society as a whole would make if well informed,” etc. Even one individual person might change her decision depending on the day … one day thinking the median salary in society is appropriate, and on another day thinking a higher salary might protect better against bribery, etc. »
    *** This reasoning is strange, as it would affect many political decisions, where different parameters are to be considered. A higher salary may protect against bribery ; it may avoid flight of talents towards private business ; in a society where salary is supposed related to ability and high responsibilities, it may state the importance of the public job. But, on the other hand, too high a salary may separate the public officials from the life of the citizens, putting them in the money elite. The choice is difficult and a citizen may waver – but many political choices are difficult ! Democracy through minipublics means doing these choices with the sensitivity of the overall civic body, but after a better deliberation than in a referendum.
    *** It seems the rational answer would be a formula with, as entry parameters, data about the income distribution in the citizen body and data about the earnings of more or less comparable jobs in the private business. Setting such a formula will be a partially arbitrary decision , ok, but the sovereign (in a democracy the « dêmos ») is the one who is legitimate to issue the partially arbitrary decisions.
    *** Setting the formula needs a large jury to limit the randomness. We can accept a small jury for some individual adaptations of limited impact, because we may accept a higher amount of randomness when the impact is not high.
    *** A small jury may be accepted even for high impact decisions when we can trust the civic body has a high level of homogeneity for all the involved social and political sensitivities. There is no evidence of such a situation for the debated subject. But, for instance, overseeing inquiries about bribery may be assigned to a small jury, inasmuch as we can think a strong majority of citizens disapprove strongly bribery of public agents.


  22. *** Terry Bouricius underlined the dangers of inequality in « mixed bodies » (March 14). It will be a problem in an allotted jury, given the inequalities of knowledge (or supposed knowledge) and rhetoric ability. But mix of common citizens with experts and specialists exacerbates the danger.
    *** The French criminal courts (Cours d’Assises) are mixed bodies of allotted jurors and professional magistrates (even if a guilt sentence needs a majority of jurors). They deliberate under secrecy, but sometimes jurors break the legal secrecy and complain about the magistrates trying to impose their views. We cannot know if it was true in the specific case, or the extent of the phenomenon, but that casts doubt upon the democratic side of the court.
    *** Anyway, a mixed body cannot be said to mirror the civic body, and therefore lacks democratic legitimacy.
    *** Mixed bodies could be used to add new original proposals to the range of proposals about an issue, but the choice between all the proposals must rest with a purely allotted jury.


  23. as far as the jury in criminal cases is concerned the original aim was to have a body with a short duration. This way the chances that the power given was misused was strongly reduced. I think this reason still stands, even for descriptive jury’s in legislative functions.


  24. *** Keith Sutherland writes (March 18) that « jury » is a term which is tossed around promiscuously on this forum ». Let’s look to the concept of « jury ».
    *** I propose this general meaning. The jury, from French « jurer » (to swear ) or a related word, is a body of people which is to issue important decisions , without a supposed superiority ; ruling about the fate of others, but « horizontally ». Many holders of power used to have to swear before taking their offices, but, before, they were chosen as superior to those they will rule (by heredity, election, nomination, certification). Jurors are named because the oath was in their case the one parameter distinguishing them. I think we can consider that as a general meaning of « jury », in English and in French (or, in Spanish, of « jurado »).
    *** In English, the sense « body of persons chosen to award prizes at an exhibition » is from 1851 (« Etymology on line »). Same senses in French and Spanish. In French at least it is currently given to bodies delivering diplomas, doctorates etc. These bodies are « juries » because their power is « horizontal » : academics judging new academics, known artists judging new artistic works : « horizontal » assessment opposite to « vertical » assessment by a Ministry of the Arts, or a « High Artist ».
    *** There was in former French law a « jury d’expropriation » to assess the value of expropriated estates.
    *** The word « jury » was used in the British tradition, and in the French one since the Revolution, for judicial bodies. For selecting the jurors, lot was usually a step, but actually there was usually a step with some social class screening, explicit or implicit. Now in France it is almost pure allotment (only a criterion of age – 23 years minimum – and of writing French).
    *** The use of the word « jury » for the Athenian popular courts does not contradict the general concept of the jury, and therefore was natural for historians. It was used for instance by the pre-eminent British historian A.H.M. Jones (« Athenian Democracy »).
    *** Athenian judicial juries were huge and did not allow face-to-face deliberation ; contemporary Western judicial juries are small and include face-to-face deliberation. These are strong differences, but I don’t think they forbid us to use the same word « jury ».
    *** When in 2006 Ségolène Royal propose « allotted citizen juries » which would oversee the elected representatives, there were screams from all the French media and political elites, but about the idea ; nobody did criticize the word, it looked the adequate word.
    *** In the kleroterian forum, « jury » is usually implicitly a « purely allotted jury », mirroring the civic body (« Citizen jury » is more precise, maybe). It is therefore synonym of minipublic. I don’t think it is a « promiscuous use », because actually minipublic is a kind of jury : it is a kind of « horizontal power ».


  25. Andre,

    Etymology is all very well, but I would suggest that actual usage is more important. In both the ancient demokratia and the modern trial the jury was/is charged with weighing the arguments of the opposing advocates and determining the outcome. As you rightly argue this presupposes a legislative jury will be composed of a large body of randomly selected citizens to adequately mirror the whole demos; as Paul argues it will need to be short term, and (as Terry, you and myself claim) anything that introduces illocutionary imbalances will stymie the ongoing representativity of the jury. This would suggest that small groups that meet to deliberate together to determine public salaries are not juries in the way we normally use the term, and would also preclude policy forums (Terry does not describe these are juries). I’m still waiting for Yoram to tell us what he means by statistical representation and why a group of 10 randomly-selected persons could statistically represent a target population in any sense other than they would all be human beings.


  26. *** Keith says « Etymology is all very well, but I would suggest that actual usage is more important. ». Rather than etymology, I was underlining the general meaning of jury, linked to horizontality of power.
    *** Keith says : « In both the ancient demokratia and the modern trial the jury was/is charged with weighing the arguments of the opposing advocates and determining the outcome. » Right, but the concept of jury does not exclude that information comes from more than two sources. Actually in contemporary French criminal trials there is not such a binary system : actors are the public accuser and the defendant, but likewise the president (who is more actor than in English tradition) and the victim’s attorney. Keith is too much centered on the English-speaking space.
    *** Keith says « anything that introduces illocutionary imbalances will stymie the ongoing representativity of the jury ». If I understand well, that implies rejecting the face-to-face deliberation as it occurs in criminal (or civil) juries in various contemporary Western countries.
    *** If I don’t mistake, English-style criminal juries only decide about the facts (discarding « nullification »). But we cannot say « it is about facts, not about politics ». Such decisions are connected to different political principles and sensitivities. Must we stick to the « presumption of innocence » ? Must we « trust the victim » if there is no other evidence ? May we reason along statistical lines about the different possible scripts ? Which amount of evidence must we ask for, given that asking more will mean more criminals left free, less deterrence, and therefore more victims ? For scientific evidence, we may even know the accuracy level of evidence, and therefore the level of evidence we ask for is quantitative. All these choices, which will always be made, explicitly or implicitly, are deeply political ones.


  27. Andre,

    The deliberation of a judicial jury is on account of the strong preference for unanimity (or near unanimity) in interpreting the facts of the matter, whereas in political decision-making a simple majority is sufficient. As for the fundamental questions in your last paragraph (presumption of innocence etc), these are quasi-constitutional principles, that would not be normally left to the whim of a small group of randomly-selected persons — the inevitable speech-act imbalances will mean that the decision of the group will not reliably reflect the informed preferences of the target population. The advantage of a binary advocate system (with the judge merely providing guidance on procedure and points of law) is that it serves the needs for balance and (aggregate) impartiality better than a tripartite system, in which the president might well swing the case one way or the other. The French judicial system is hard for
    an Anglophone audience to understand (if the Canal+ TV series Engrenages is anything to go by).


  28. Andre’s mention of the fact that jurors take an oath (both present day, and in Ancient Athens), prompts me to circulate this modern sortition pledge I and some other sortition activists worked on last year. Whether jurors are actively deliberating, or merely voting on a binary choice, the pledge seems useful to me (and psychology experiments suggest oaths, if taken at the right time, CAN affect people’s behavior).

    Here is my current draft:

    Juror’s pledge

    “I agree to treat all those present with respect. I will listen with an open mind, and delay making any final decision on the matters under consideration until I have heard all of the evidence and arguments. I recognize that some things that I believed to be true may turn out to be wrong, and that other things that I did not accept may turn out to be valid. I commit to making a final decision that on balance I genuinely believe is in the best interests of all.”

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Terry,

    Nice! Oath taking in the ancient was a very serious matter, but it’s good to know that there is research evidence that it can still make a difference in the modern world.


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