Citizens’ chambers: towards an activism of selection by lot

In a paper, previously linked to on this blog, James Fishkin identifies some potential shortcomings of citizen’s chambers which justify his own preference for ad hoc, and temporary citizens’ panels. I think he makes some good points. I think his arguments need further exploration which I do in the first half of this post before articulating a more general unease at where Fishkin and many protagonists of sortition are coming from.

His central concerns with a citizen’s chamber are that it might:

  • have insufficient technical expertise
  • be susceptible to corruption and
  • not maintain the high quality “conditions for deliberation” that have been achieved in more ad hoc citizens’ juries.

These are legitimate concerns. But they have a ‘theoretical’ ring to me. Firstly Fishkin doesn’t provide much evidence that these problems would arise or if they did how bad they’d be. Secondly, he also fails to compare the likely problems with existing similar problems in the existing chambers. I’ll go through these arguments regarding each of the claims in a little more detail below before proceeding to my more general concern.

Technical expertise

If someone can suggest a means by which one or two hundred people can represent the polity and not lack expertise in all the functions of government, I’ll be interested to hear it. Perhaps a random selection from the great unwashed will be less technically expert than elected representatives. For instance, in wealthy countries today, over 90 percent of elected political representatives are university educated compared with around half the population. But that greater level of education comes with its own blind spots as we’re discovering. Moreover, a university graduate in law or psychology won’t be much help in steering fiscal policy and in that regard, the people’s elected representatives often rely in such matters on delegation to independent experts and being advised by experts. But this comes with the territory.

Another skill is humility – knowing and conceding the limits of one’s knowledge. It is also morally worthy and important to compromise between perspectives and interests which is the essence of democracy. My guess is that those chosen by sortition would be more attuned to the limits of their own expertise – and, one can also hope, to the limits of expertise itself – both because of they were relatively less educated but also because they had not sought the job and had nothing to prove.

It’s possible that less well-educated people would dismiss expertise altogether. However, for the best part of the last decade elected politicians, particularly on the right in the US and Australia began habitually discounting what appears to be robust climate science whilst they and their fellow travellers received generous funding from vested interests which benefited from such stances.

Corruption

It is unclear to me that ordinary citizens are more susceptible to corruption than our elected representatives. Indeed elected representatives are actually inured to a soft kind of corruption and careerism by which I mean not just party discipline overriding their consciences but also in the access politics now gives to post-politics career opportunities. Ex-politicians are already well connected with existing ones giving them advantages in lobbying their former colleagues. But it’s worse than this. Certain vested interests which can make or lose billions depending on government decisions (for instance banks and providers of privately funded infrastructure) are already gaining a reputation for looking after ex-politicians who have previously treated them well.

To the extent that members of citizens’ chambers turn over more often than career politicians and have less direct access to ministerial decision making the risk from the citizens’ chamber seems correspondingly less. Their influence as lobbyists is also likely to be less given their lack of connection with a political party and establishment.

I also think they’d be more resistant to soft corruption. I recall when Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faced down parliamentarians from ‘micro-parties’ in the Senate (unlikely politicians who managed to scrape into parliament on very slender primary votes by doing deals with other parties). The hard-heads in the Press Gallery suggested that this was a masterstroke because it would give them a career interest in supporting the Prime Minister’s agenda. But the Press Gallery were judging these political newbies by the standards of career politicians. Representatives from the micro-parties proved more resistant to such blandishments and threats based on their political interests than career politicians.

Maintaining good conditions for deliberation

Fishkin makes his third point – that a citizens’ chamber might be antithetical to the careful deliberation as follows:

If the roles and behaviors of randomly selected full-time legislators were anything like the ones we are familiar with for legislators in modern society, then there would be a host of behaviors outside any such deliberative structure. There would be many individual meetings, caucuses, efforts at coalition building or even caucus or party formation, and meetings with lobbyists, staff, and constituents. Individual representatives might deliberate or they might not. But we have no institutional design to predict reliably that they would.

This is holding a citizens’ chamber to an infinitely higher standard than elected representatives all around the world whose collective conduct has more or less comprehensively emptied deliberation from their chambers thus traducing the meticulous designs of their founders – for instance of the founders of the United States Constitution. There are negotiation and coalition building on the rare occasions where the government doesn’t have the numbers or there’s a conscience vote, but otherwise, the system we have is all declamation rather than deliberation to arrive at a better position.

Towards sortition as activism

More generally, I fear a kind of squeamishness in Fishkin’s arguments, that he’s making the best to be the enemy of the good. Right now we have a terrible deliberative deficit in representative democracy. I think it’s self-evident that greater use of sortition can address that in a powerful way. It won’t be perfect, but then we’re talking about democracy – so it can’t be. Even if caucusing and coalition building became the norm within a citizens’ chamber, it would all be in the service of a collectively deliberative purpose. In each and every case, conduct within the chamber and in its corridors or offline would all be directed towards the ultimate goal of persuading those who’d not yet decided, a great rarity today in elected chambers today.

I agree with what I presume Fishkin thinks – that a critical role of sortition is to help guard against excessive polarisation in our politics. But, thinking of great political leaders – whether activists outside mainstream party politics like Martin Luther King or those within it like Abraham Lincoln – we need to vigorously assert the alternative legitimacy we claim. When King stood on the bridge at Selma, when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation they were doing that – simply asserting an alternative legitimacy to the one that had dominated politics until that time.

There were no trials to be run and no presumption that they could comfortably roll out this new world without struggle and without problems which needed to be addressed as they arose. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for “bold persistent experimentation” something our existing system now renders incredibly difficult if that experimentation treads on important toes or can be easily traduced and misrepresented in political combat, he was asserting the urgency of that need and the impossibility of meeting it with perfect safety. As he put it to the graduating students he was talking to that day “As you have viewed this world of which you are about to become a more active part, I have no doubt that you have been impressed by its chaos, its lack of plan.”

For me, until I see evidence that sortition won’t do what we all think it can, I want to find ways of asserting its legitimacy against the legitimacy and power of the current system, not in order to replace it, but to introduce itself as a check and balance, and so to heal it as we move towards a more mixed constitution (with representation by election and sortition each contributing). That’s why I proposed a ‘Brexit Deliberation Day‘ and actually got quite close to getting it funded. But of course it didn’t fit anyone’s agenda because, though I think we know what it would have shown – a swing on deliberation away from Brexit – I couldn’t guarantee what the outcome would be to any funder and I didn’t want it to be an anti-Brexit exercise in any event. The goal was to surface the considered will of the people on such a critical matter, whatever it might be. I also couldn’t get funding from the promoters of sortition because they don’t want to rock the boat too much. Note how the citizens’ jury that was run on Brexit was assiduous in seeking to avoid re-litigating Brexit, assiduous in other words in not asserting the legitimacy of sortition to challenge the status quo.

I agree that coalition building, caucuses of groups and so on within the citizens’ chamber could charge the atmosphere somewhat. But I see these things as part of making an idea real. Of course, it’ll have costs, as any unfolding of sortition into the harsh reality of navigating real politics will. But it will also have benefits and I think they’ll outweigh the costs.

For instance for as long as we are concerned by these things we’ll stay in charge of the process. We’ll govern it, and if it’s to mature into a successful contributor to our politics it must begin to govern itself. So I’d like to see the issue of factionalism and also the question of how those with less advantages get a fair say being owned by those in the chamber rather than managed by facilitators from outside. In that regard, one might provide services to the citizens’ chamber and seek its own input on establishing systems of governance to deliver such things – if the chamber itself considers them valuable, which I have little doubt it would.

The kinds of mechanisms practiced today to keep citizens’ juries in deliberative mode, which seem to be the ones Fishkin is appealing to given his emphasis on sticking with tried and tested experience seem to position the citizens’ chamber as no more than advising the lawmakers, the real politicians – in the executive and in the legislature (which, I might add is already failing to hold the executive to account.)

Our existing policy system is so degraded in deliberative capability, so riven with careerism and manipulation from the top that Australia recently abolished carbon pricing against the better judgement of what I would imagine was over three-quarters of its parliamentarians. The UK is engineering something similar with Brexit against the better judgement of its parliamentarians, political polling now underway and against the best evidence of what citizens appear to think once they’ve deliberated on the question. So I want citizens’ chambers to come to challenge the status quo at its worst.

One of the ways that has to happen is that an eco-system has to develop around sortition which can take up that challenge. Fiskin acknowledges this where he talks about needing mechanisms that are “connected enough to the political fray that the selected proposals have actual proponents advocating them to the electorate”. I can’t see how sortition can come of age until this stage is reached. I don’t know whether Fishkin has in mind that these advocates coming from within the sortition body or outside, but I think of the body as a field in which some people will come to be leaders. I hope the way they emerge will reflect what I think of the ethos of community service rather than self-assertion. We may not agree on which ones are good and which bad – in a democracy that’s a feature not a bug.

If one is concerned at giving too much power to such a body early on it can be made advisory only. If one is still concerned that it sets a precedent or otherwise prejudices the way we develop these ideas, we can subject it to sunset clauses, establishing a citizens’ chamber for the life of a legislature after which it would lapse unless extended. And one can expand their power and the tenure of the chamber and/or its members as one gains experience. When we have it we can proceed (conservatively) according to the evidence we generate.

I couldn’t see Fishkin mention super-majorities but surely this is the way to deal with concerns that a chamber might not be sufficiently representative. It’s certainly how we deal with it in juries – requiring very ample majorities to be dispositive. If over 60 percent of a randomly selected chamber of 200 people think something I’m comfortable that it represents the considered will of the people. I also think giving a super majority of a citizens’ chamber the power to impose a secret ballot on a chamber it disagrees with offers a safety valve. It’s saying nothing more than that a super-majority representing the considered will of the people has a right to insist that if the contrary view of another chamber is to have force it tolerably represents not just the state of party discipline but also the private wisdom of the chamber. I can’t see what there’s not to like.

Finally we can’t really ever run proper experiments with giving such bodies real power and influence until we do so as power and influence change the game. So we have to have some minimal level of boldness. I’ll finish by quoting the same speech in which Roosevelt called for “bold persistent experimentation” ditching what fails and capitalising on what works:

Probably few will disagree that the goal is desirable. Yet many, of faint heart, fearful of change, sitting tightly on the roof-tops in the flood, will sternly resist striking out for it, lest they fail to attain it. Even among those who are ready to attempt the journey there will be violent differences of opinion as to how it should be made. So complex, so widely distributed over our whole society are the problems which confront us that men and women of common aim do not agree upon the method of attacking them. Such disagreement leads to doing nothing, to drifting. Agreement may come too late.

12 Responses

  1. Re corruption, two points:

    1. Would-be bribers, especially if established big businesses with lots to lose, could be in very hot water from attempting to bribe, or even just attempt to sway privately, a cit-rep, if they approached a target who declined and blabbed about it to the media, or who clued in the secretariat, which then “wired” all potential targets and set a trap for bribers. This would greatly discourage attempted bribery.

    2. The secretariat could employ “fake” bribers (perhaps recruited from convicted con-men) to test cit-reps, who would be harshly penalized if they failed to report such an attempt, as they had been told they must do. This would greatly discourage “real” bribers from making any attempt.

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  2. Nicholas,
    While I agree with much of your rebuttal of Fishkin’s concerns, there are also many points you make that I disagree with.

    The crux of my view is that the model of an all-purpose legislative chamber is a poor design choice for sortition, (and is also a terrible choice for an elected legislative process — though for different reasons). Anyone interested in a fuller explanation of why it would be better to have an array of single-issue sortition bodies, rather than a single one modeled on existing elected chambers can read about it in a paper I published :
    “Why Hybrid Bicameralism Is Not Right for Sortition,” in the Journal _Politics & Society_, Vol. 46 Iss. 3, Sept. 2018 ( slightly longer earlier version of this paper is available without a pay wall at Academia.edu here:
    https://www.academia.edu/37578530/Why_Hybrid_Bicameralism_is_Not_Right_for_Sortition

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  3. Below is the abstract for that paper I mentioned above. Although the abstract focuses on the negative effects of maintaining an elected chamber along side a sortition one, the paper also discusses why an all-purpose chamber is a mistake for sortition even if there is no elected chamber in addition.

    “This paper examines structural problems with pairing two chambers, one selected by election and the other by sortition, into a traditional bicameral system. I argue that utilizing an all-purpose legislative chamber, modeled on existing elected chambers, is a mismatch for sortition, and that purported benefits of maintaining partisan elections alongside sortition are illusory. I then argue that any alleged benefits of a hybrid bicameral system are outweighed by a variety of harmful effects. Furthermore, even if these harms are not substantiated, the continued existence of an elected chamber will likely result in the delimitation of the sortition chamber. I argue that combining many different sorts of mini-publics with different characteristics and functions is preferable, and present a possible multi-body sortition legislative system. Finally, I propose an alternative way forward for sortition by peeling away individual topic areas from elected bodies and transferring them to sortition bodies.”

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  4. tbouricius>: I agree 100%. Another benefit: topical specialization is needed to provide publics with a something finely divided enough for them to master; and to enable mere citizens to serve in their spare time, over the Internet, as their electees. (If a system involving elected legislators is installed.)

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  5. PS to my comment above on corruption: Targets of bribery and/or intimidation could not only be penalized for failing to report such events, but also rewarded for doing so.

    Nicholas Gruen:> “… over 90 percent of elected political representatives are university educated compared with around half the population. But that greater level of education comes with its own blind spots as we’re discovering. … Another skill is humility – knowing and conceding the limits of one’s knowledge. It is also morally worthy and important to compromise between perspectives and interests which is the essence of democracy. My guess is that those chosen by sortition would be more attuned to the limits of their own expertise – and, one can also hope, to the limits of expertise itself ….”

    Nicholas Gruen:> “.. I think of the body as a field in which some people will come to be leaders. I hope the way they emerge will reflect what I think of the ethos of community service rather than self-assertion. 

    Humility—modesty would be a better term—is something that is lacking in all-too-many politicians. It’s not only because they are partisanly arrogant (they think they and their party have “The Answers”) and personally ambitious; “The System” requires them to aggressively “seek the office” and “win” their seats, which usually gives them an immodest swelled head and the illusion of having a mandate to do as they and their party please. A modesty-enhancing sortition-based System would in comparison tend to “seek the man” and bestow the office.

    Needing to strive to achieve a “one-up” status—and what comes along with achieving it (long-term nemesis)—is what’s wrong with the world. The world must be turned upside down. Giving the Fates a vote, via sortition, is a necessary step toward righting the world. Humanity must step away from “being in charge” and settle for “having an influence.” I.e., it must give up on being one-up or “number one.” Something similar in spirit is, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

    Another step toward reversing the polarity of politics occurred to me last month. I’ll favor y’all with it when the moon comes over the mountain.

    Fishkin:> “there would be a host of behaviors outside any such deliberative structure. There would be many individual meetings, caucuses, efforts at coalition building or even caucus or party formation, and meetings with lobbyists, staff, and constituents.”

    This could be avoided by requiring assemblies to assemble only online, where members would be identifiable only by their user-names and avatars. and by prohibiting members from attempting to communicate with one another elsewhere than on the cit-reps’ forum. Cit-reps would be required to report attempted communications from cit-rep insiders as well as from outsiders (as described in my comment on corruption above).

    Fishkin:> “Individual representatives might deliberate or they might not. But we have no institutional design to predict reliably that they would.”

    Nicholas Gruen:> “… for as long as we are concerned by [should be “about”] these things we’ll stay in charge of the process. We’ll govern it, and if it’s to mature into a successful contributor to our politics it must begin to govern itself. So I’d like to see the issue of factionalism and also the question of how those with less advantages get a fair say being owned by those in the chamber rather than managed by facilitators from outside.”

    Terry Bouricius’s Rules and/or Oversight mini-publics could handle the job. Plus, there’d be the safety, in the initial period, of procedures not being cast in concrete, and with the assembly’s explicit charter stating that it can expect some outside body to make in-flight corrections. I suggest also that sociologists or political scientists or their students be inserted as observer-sensors in the assembly as reporters to the Overseers.

    “… Facilitators from the outside” will arouse suspicions of bias among some in the general public, especially in regards to selection of what informational material will be presented, particularly in value-laden areas of controversy. Outsider-partisans and cranks will howl if their “information” isn’t presented at all, and seek to delegitimize the system. So such outside facilitators should be supplemented by providing a way for outsiders to at least get a word in edgewise.

    I suggest that the assembly deputize an ad hoc committee (by BalLotery), or assign to the Oversight mini-public, the task of allotting time- (for videos) and space-slices for material not proposed by facilitators. This objection to facilitators will be a stumbling block, so even though I believe that facilitators would rarely choose unwisely, and that fringe input would mostly be unwise and disruptive, I also believe the it must be allowed in, to a limited extent. (Forcing fringe promoters to be concise would often assist actually their cause.) If and when the cit-reps in the assembly and/or Oversight bodies become more fringy themselves, more such material would be added to the background information packet.

    Nicholas Gruen:> “Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for ‘bold persistent experimentation.’ …

    Right! Ready-squad, fire-away, and aim (by adopting the aiming point of whoever best hit the target)! Let’s deliberately, at say the State level, implement different sortition-type organizational arrangements at the county and city levels. Then our states will be truly “laboratories for democracy.”

    States could also decide to deliberately differentiate their own-level initial implementations of citocratic features from what earlier-adopting States had chosen, for experimental purposes. Political scientists and statisticians could advise them on how to do this most usefully.

    Nicholas Gruen:> “… until I see evidence that sortition won’t do what we all think it can, I want to find ways of asserting its legitimacy against the legitimacy and power of the current system, not in order to replace it, but to introduce itself as a check and balance, and so to heal it as we move towards a more mixed constitution (with representation by election and sortition each contributing).”

    YES! It’s a stepwise, tentative journey from where we are now. A home-improvement project, not a raze-and-replace operation. I.e., by not eliminating elections of some sort, at least not initially.

    Nicholas Gruen:> “an eco-system has to develop around sortition …. Fishkin acknowledges this where he talks about needing mechanisms that are ‘connected enough to the political fray that the selected proposals have actual proponents advocating them to the electorate.’ I can’t see how sortition can come of age until this stage is reached. I don’t know whether Fishkin has in mind that these advocates coming from within the sortition body or outside ….”

    My “Demarchy …” thread here on EBL proposes that proponents of both alternative and in-place policies and personnel regularly appear in the inter-election period (for topic-specialized cit-legislators) before their cit-electors. That’s one way to handle it. “Fringe” and small-minority advocates would get less time, as described above. They’d eventually win larger shares of time, in accordance with their place in the ranked-choice-type voting cit-electors would perform. (Citizen-electors might even perform time-slice-only ranked-choice voting after each inter-electoral gathering.)

    My thread also proposes an infrastructure of Ancillary groups, all balancing and checking and influencing one another—and the cit-electors too, to some degree.

    Nicholas Gruen:> “… super-majorities … surely .. is the way to deal with concerns that a chamber might not be sufficiently representative. It’s certainly how we deal with it in juries – requiring very ample majorities to be dispositive.”

    Great minds …

    Nicholas Gruen:> If over 60 percent of a randomly selected chamber of 200 people think something I’m comfortable that it represents the considered will of the people.

    60% seems like a high bar, maybe too high. How about 57%? People (e.g., Obama) are familiar with Heinz’s 57 varieties.

    Nicholas Gruen:> “Right now we have a terrible deliberative deficit in representative democracy. I think it’s self-evident that greater use of sortition can address that in a powerful way.” “Roosevelt … was asserting the urgency of that need ….” “That’s why I proposed a ‘Brexit Deliberation Day‘ ….“

    An indirect strategy, which I prefer, would be surround the political system with citocratic social structures. For instance, why can’t a group of sortitionistas among professors try to get a group of colleges to agree to serve as coordinated testing labs for what could be sold as the Next Big Thing in politics: sortitionism. Administrators or pol.-sci. departments would likely give the green light, and the student body (or the student council) could be then asked to agree. (Or maybe those entities should be asked first, and the academics second.) It shouldn’t be hard. Students mostly view student councils and their members as nerds and pests.

    (I once participated in promoting a successful, low-effort petition to actually abolish an ivy-league college’s student government. So a less radical, and explicitly temporary, and “for (political) science” endeavor should have an even easier task, especially if endorsed by the college’s relevant academic departments.)

    Next target: citocratic oversight bodies (COBs) in the workplace. I can see this possibly becoming a cause taken up by many partisan groups and sweeping the nation in the blink of Miss Liberty’s eye (e.g., two years to get to 15% penetration, say—representing over a thousand organizations), after which the nascent megatrend would be clear to all, and serious sortitionizing in the political domain would ensue.

    Nicholas Gruen:> “It won’t be perfect, but then we’re talking about democracy – so it can’t be.”

    Beautifully put.

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  6. Nick:> Fishkin identifies some potential shortcomings of citizen’s chambers which justify his own preference for ad hoc, and temporary citizens’ panels.

    OK, but that doesn’t mean that the role of latter should be purely advisory. The working examples from antiquity (the 4th century nomothetic panels) and modernity (Fishkin’s Zegou DP) indicate that ad hoc temporary panels can exercise (de facto) statutory powers in an intelligent and responsible manner. Terry has provided convincing reasons why general-purpose legislatures are sub-optimal and the notion of a general-purpose allotted legislature is nothing more than a thought experiment based on a flawed template. Fishkin has over two decades experience with ad hoc allotted bodies and has argued at length that such bodies are the best (or, possibly, the only) way of discovering the informed preferences of citizens in large multicultural states. So we should encourage him to pursue his research programme to its obvious conclusions.

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  7. So many thoughts are triggered, but in this post I will just touch on two of them…

    On transition to sortition:

    A good way to transition to a sortition-based democracy is by peeling away one issue area at a time from the elected legislature, and vesting final authority in an allotted body instead. Politicians would simply no longer be involved in those policy areas. For example, a nation’s healthcare system could be democratically governed using sortition. The elected politicians might even happily be rid of certain issues. This is the camel’s nose under the tent flap. Yoram Gat has suggested one likely initial field for sortition being oversight of politicians in terms of ethics and corruption with power to punish or remove. It might also be opportune to place control of NEW areas needing democratic control under sortition instead of bodies appointed by politicians… such as control of a region’s street corner video surveillance cameras (that are widespread in many areas, and create the risk of a turn-key totalitarianism if the government goes bad).

    The idea is to peel away issue areas over time until the elected chambers are dealing with fewer and fewer public policy issues. The elected legislature might persist, but like the monarchies of Europe become rather toothless over time.

    On the issue of super-majorities:

    Often failing to reach a super-majority to make a decision IS making a decision (to maintain the status quo), so a super-majority rule simply enshrines minority rule and is undemocratic. The better procedure if an allotted mini-public makes a very close vote, is to convene another mini-public, (probably larger to assure statistical representativeness) to examine the issue again, and if it comes to the same decision, it passes. Each mini-public must use a 50%+ majority threshold. In this case that minority can only delay, but we keep the vital majority rule. The only possible role for a super-majority threshold is an accelerated process, or defeating a veto if some such procedure is provided.

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  8. > More generally, I fear a kind of squeamishness in Fishkin’s arguments, that he’s making the best to be the enemy of the good.

    I think you are being a quite bit too generous here. This is not about aiming for the best. It is about dread of democracy.

    Fishkin, and many others of similar mind, are unhappy with the status quo, but they are certainly unwilling to replace it with democracy. So they are on a quest to fix certain aspects of the status quo while making very sure that power is not equalized. They want elite rule, but it has to be the right elite, so their proposals are about empowering a certain kind of elite by giving them the legitimacy of popular support. In the past, elections were exactly this legitimization mechanism. However, Fishkin et al. feel that currently elections can no longer be relied upon to empower the right people and so the mechanism must be changed. But whatever mechanism is proposed it is not aimed at being a democratization mechanism but rather a mechanism for elite empowerment.

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  9. Yoram:> Fishkin, and many others of similar mind . . . want elite rule, but it has to be the right elite, so their proposals are about empowering a certain kind of elite by giving them the legitimacy of popular support.

    Presumably this is a reference to Fishkin’s reliance on exogenous expert advocacy to provide ‘balanced’ information to the deliberative forum. But, given that we are proposing that the DP verdict should have statutory power — with a decision that is binding on everybody, not just the few hundred randomly-selected members — what is the alternative? If you take the case of a binary decision like Brexit, on which UK citizens appear to be evenly divided, it is essential that the advocacy matches this. In my proposal advocacy would be provided by the two official camps approved by the Electoral Commission, and the preservation of balance would be in the hands of the judge appointed to chair the proceedings. Your competing model would (presumably) be to select a random sample and then leave it to the allotted members to decide on the information and expert guidance they choose. But given that most citizens are poorly informed on most political issues and the inevitable imbalance between the perceived status and persuasiveness of different members of the assembly, how will you ensure that the resultant deliberations would accurately reflect the informed preferences of the target population? So why should the vast majority of citizens excluded from the process agree to be bound by the decision?

    >they are certainly unwilling to replace [the status quo] with democracy.

    That’s because Fishkin, like his mentor Robert Dahl, is aware that the achievement of democracy in large multicultural states is a complex matter. I agree with Andre that Fishkin is a democrat (unlike Habermas, Dryzek and others who believe in pure deliberation).

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  10. tbouricius> Thanks for your comments. I’ll try to read your article if I get the time, but while I think your idea of subject specific sortition seems OK to me, it seems a long way distant – even more than what I’ve suggested. And if you have a body with a carved out area of jurisdiction, how to do you deal with disagreements over what fits where?

    I think what I’ve suggested could also evolve toward somenthing like your model if the chamber wanted that. Most particularly I’d allow the chamber to appoint it’s own sub-groups – which in my thinking would be themselves chosen by lot – either from some population the chamber specified or randomly from the whole community as the chamber would be.

    Attractions of a sortition chamber to me are
    1) its simplicity
    2) the fact that people ‘get’ sortition – so long as you don’t call it ‘sortition’ and talk about ‘selection from the community as we do in juries’ and
    3) the fact that it creates a peak chamber for sortition. So if you had groups of citizens being set up and coming to views the primary sortition chamber’s role would be to establish such groups and then to determine, as the supreme body chosen directly from the people where the chips fell.

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  11. Nick:> And if you have a body with a carved out area of jurisdiction, how to do you deal with disagreements over what fits where?

    Yes that’s a serious problem with subject-specific sortition. In my model constitution the executive is appointed (or elected) independently and the finance minister will naturally become primus inter pares. This is how the office of “prime” minister (initially a term of abuse for the First Lord of the Treasury) evolved in the British constitution.

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  12. If anyone’s interested, I’ve updated and improved this post somewhat here

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