2018 review – sortition-related events

This is the end-of-year summary of notable sortition related events for 2018.

Sortition received some increasing attention in the English-speaking world in 2018. The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College has announced the creation of the Bard Institute for the Revival of Democracy through Sortition. Richard Askwith and Tim Dunlop published books advocating for sortition. Selina Thompson put on a sortition-themed play and organized a sortition-themed workshop. Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections was (dismissively) reviewed in the New York Times. Sortition was featured in the Left-leaning magazine Jacobin as well as on BBC radio, and was mentioned in the Washington Post. Canadian scientist and environmentalist expressed interest in drawing politicians from a hat.

Brett Hennig’s TED talk about sortition was featured by TED on their main page, generating a spike of interest in the idea, including by Beppe Grillo, co-founder of the Italian electorally successful Five Star movement. Another spike of interest in sortition followed media reports about the arrest of a sortition advocate who allegedly planned to blow himself up in an attempt to draw attention to the idea.

Late in the year, sortition was on the agenda of two mass-action movements: UK’s Extinction Rebellion and France’s Gilets Jaunes.

Earlier in the year elites continued to express their dissatisfaction with the way elections are turning out. A proposal was made to use sortition to improve citizen behavior. Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown made a similar suggestion in the context of Brexit. The Ireland abortion referendum that approved the recommendations of an allotted chamber was held as an example to emulate.

Reports about sortition being used or advocated at local government appeared in the press. An initiative for appointing judges by lot is under way in Switzerland. Charlie Pache, a Swiss sortition activist, promotes single issue allotted citizen panels. Academic conferences about sortition were held in Belgium and in the US.

In France, the discussion has moved beyond the initial stage of unfamiliarity into some substantive discussion of the details of applications of sortition. A member of La France insoumise who was allotted to its electoral committee expressed disillusionment with the process. Other FI activists claim that “so far, the allotted have had no real power”. Michel Quatrevalet, a power industry professional in France, complains that the so-called participatory democracy process that was part of the process for the creation of a French multi-year energy plan was a sham.

7 Responses

  1. About Brexit and the proposal of a « randomly chosen representative group ».
    In the British public opinion « some want to Remain, some want no deal, some want Norway » and some want the recent deal.
    *** I would like to know : did any opinion poll ask to rank the options ?
    Given the different dimensions (British identity, British sovereignty, immigration, economy) we could think there is a serious risk of a Condorcet cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andre, I don’t think any opinion polls have ranked these options. As you rightly say the Condorcet paradox will apply to this kind of decision making, irrespective of how the decision body is constituted. When I originally proposed a deliberative assembly to decide Brexit (before the referendum) it was a simple binary choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Except, it was only the illusion of a binary choice. The referendum was fundamentally flawed. The fact that the devil is in the details means there was not a binary choice that could be offered at that point. Without the details nobody could cast a competent vote… (leave with conditions A, B and C, would have different supporters than leave with conditions E, F and G).There needed to already be a negotiated leave plan before the vote, so voters could theoretically vote intelligently (though due to rational ignorance, that also would be illusory), or the question needed to be, something like “Shall the government negotiate an end to the existing arrangement?”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Terry:> the question needed to be, something like “Shall the government negotiate an end to the existing arrangement?”

    I think that was implicit in the original referendum (except that the “end” was not a modification of membership terms, as Cameron had already failed to achieve that). If the decision had been taken by a DP-style representative jury, then Remain advocates would have argued that the EU would be unlikely to accept a negotiated withdrawal that was favourable to the UK, and that a no-deal outcome would be even worse. That would have affected the DP final vote so, at that stage it was still a binary choice and it would not have been subject to rational ignorance. The only reason the current situation is subject to the Condorcet paradox, is that the government is committed to leave.


  5. *** About the Brexit choice, Terry wrote: “There needed to already be a negotiated leave plan before the vote, so voters could theoretically vote intelligently (though due to rational ignorance, that also would be illusory).”
    *** Let’s suppose the choice carried by a mini-populus, with a low impact of rational ignorance, and the Leave-with-deal option well defined through a previous negotiation. That does not exclude the possibility of a Condorcet paradox, given the different dimensions (British identity, British sovereignty, immigration, economy).
    *** As said Keith, the problem is irrespective of how the decision body is constituted. But in polyarchic systems the political processes are complex, and therefore there will be usually no clear occurrence of Condorcet paradoxes. It could be a drawback of the mini-populus model to put into light such problems.
    *** About Brexit, a so much studied and talked about issue, no opinion poll has ranked the issues, Keith believes. No poll by any media, no poll by any political science institute. It seems a bit odd.


  6. […] previous years’ summaries see: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, […]


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