Sixty residents chosen for the Cambridge Citizens Assembly

CambridgeshireLive reports:

Citizens Assembly set up to inform Council transport decisions

A citizens’ assembly has been established by the Greater Cambridge Partnership to make recommendations which will inform its infrastructure development plans.

The assembly is made up of 60 residents “chosen through a civic lottery process so that it fairly represents the population”.

It will meet to address the following question: How do we reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide better public transport in Greater Cambridge?

Its members will also hear from experts and be supported by an advisory group.
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Are citizens’ assemblies little more than institutional band aids?

The following are some excerpts from an article by Tom Gerald Daly, from the University of Melbourne, in Pursuit (a publication of the University):

Australian democracy: crisis, resilience and renewal

Given the global rise in authoritarian populist parties and political forces that are opposed to the key tenets of liberal democracy, Australia’s own democracy appears on the surface to be in relatively good health.

For instance, most democracy assessment indices (although far from perfect as reflections of reality) have not registered any declines for Australian democracy for the past decade.

That said, a dominant view has taken hold that Australia’s political system is in crisis, paralysis and even decline. The public images of both the federal government and parliament has been tarnished by a variety of factors, especially the regularity with which Prime Ministers have been ousted between elections – since 2007 Australia has had six prime ministers, when in the previous 36 years (1971-2007) there were only six.

Some polls suggest that public faith in the political system and democracy has plummeted. A broad survey of polling data in December 2018 showed that fewer than 41 per cent of Australian citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia, a stark drop from 86 per cent in 2007.

There is a strong case then for some reform of our political institutions.
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Sortition in the press

Some recent media items mentioning sortition:

Jack Hunter, a research fellow at think tank IPPR North, writes in PSE proposes to use the Northern Powerhouse to encourage greater social purpose among businesses in the region by having investment directed by an allotted citizen panel.

The Northern Powerhouse was created in Whitehall, but is increasingly something owned and championed by the north’s leaders. Because of this, there is also the opportunity to leverage the strength of the north’s history and culture, to develop a more civic role for businesses.

In a recent report, IPPR North set out how to make this happen. One idea we have put forward is the creation of a Northern Powerhouse Community Fund. We suggested that a pan-northern charitable fund should be set up, funded through a voluntary contribution of 1% of profits from northern businesses in order to help to fund voluntary and community activity in the region. Decisions about investment would be made by a panel of northern citizens, chosen by sortition.

Such a fund would give firms across the north a new opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. At the same time, it could be an opportunity to give people in the north a greater say in where money in their region goes.

Allotted citizen panels are part of Extinction Rebellion’s call to action:
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On the unrepresentativeness of representatives stretching back through time

Who Becomes a Member of Congress? Evidence From De-Anonymized Census Data
Daniel M. Thompson, James J. Feigenbaum, Andrew B. Hall, and Jesse Yoder #26156

Abstract:
We link future members of Congress to the de-anonymized 1940 census to offer a uniquely detailed analysis of how economically unrepresentative American politicians were in the 20th century, and why. Future members under the age of 18 in 1940 grew up in households with parents who earned more than twice as much as the population average and who were more than 6 times as likely as the general population to hold college degrees. However, compared to siblings who did not become politicians, future members of Congress between the ages of 18 and 40 in 1940 were higher-earners and more educated, indicating that socioeconomic background alone does not explain the differences between politicians and non-politicians. Examining a smaller sample of candidates that includes non-winners, we find that the candidate pool is much higher-earning and more educated than the general population. At the same time, among the candidate pool, elections advantage candidates with higher earnings ability and education. We conclude that barriers to entry likely deter a more economically representative candidate pool, but that electoral advantages for more-educated individuals with more private-sector success also play an important role.

Sortition in Ha’aretz

Ha’aretz is Israel’s elite newspaper. With Israel’s second election day of 2019 coming up in about a month, Ha’aretz published in its latest weekend magazine an article by Hilo Glaser offering readers several reform ideas for the political system. Sortition got top billing. I was interviewed for the article. Below is a translation of some excerpts (original in Hebrew, paywalled).

The method: Sortition (i.e., lottery instead of elections)

The idea: Advocates of sortition note that modern democracy embraces ideas originating from Ancient Greece, but it disposes of the government mechanism that enabled their application. In ancient democracy public offices were appointed by lottery among the entire citizenry. This is how officials, clerics, and even government ministers were appointed.

In 2014, Prof. Irad Malkin published an article in Ha’aretz in which he explained that “the lottery was the most effective tool against the oligarchy of money and government, drawing the citizens into the political activity and allowing them to take part at different levels: in the sovereign assembly, in the high council, and in the courts. This worked well for 200 years.”

Not only historians are calling to revive the lottery mechanism. Yoram Gat, a software engineer and a statistics Ph.D., has recently published an article challenging the mechanism of elections in view of the public frustration with elected institutions and offering sortition as an alternative. He claims that allotment of political office holders will result in optimal representation of the different groups in the population.
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Code of Good Practice for allotted mini-publics involved with legislation

This text is meant as a start to discuss the problem, it is not even a draft. My hope is nevertheless that we will reach that point, or even farther.

Introduction: As the use of mini-publics appointed by sortition is spreading around the world, and is reaching the legislative level, a code of good practice is essential. A glossary is also necessary.

We know that not all essential criteria can always be met, but we have to know at least what to aim for and how to refute well-founded criticism and protect a valuable democratic system. Citizens must know that there are essential choices to make that are of significant impact on the outcome and on the reliability of the results.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is what the kind of application it is we have at hand. The participation ladder from Arnstein may be of help. The participation cube from Archon Fung is somewhat more complicated but more up to date. Or we can look for an answer ourselves.

– Is the proposed mini-public of significant influence on legislation? Answers may differ, but we have to make a decision.

The Oregon CIR system has a noticeable influence on legislative decision making (by referendum in this case). Providing information is a very important issue in any form of democratic legislation.

The Washington state panel that sets the wages of elected legislators has no influence on legislation.

The Irish panel is also not of direct significant influence on legislation. It makes non-binding suggestions to the elected body which decides to whether to initiate a referendum or not.

A Jury in the judicial system has no relation to legislative use.

For this reasons I suggest that the first code of good practice is about the lowest legislative level, the Oregon CIR (or alike).  Although the Oregon CIR is difficult to place at the Arnstein ladder I propose to qualify it at level 6 for the sake of comparing it with other initiatives.

Irregularities in the selection process of the Irish Citizen Assembly

This is over a year old, but is relevant to the recent discussions here of allotment procedures.

Seven people who took part in the last Citizens’ Assembly weren’t recruited properly
Feb 21st 2018

A TOTAL OF seven people who took part in the last meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly were improperly recruited and shouldn’t have been there. The Citizens’ Assembly confirmed that seven of the 99 citizens present at a meeting on 13 and 14 January had been recruited improperly by Red C Research and Marketing.

In statements from both the Citizens’ Assembly and Red C, the fault was placed on one specific Red C recruiter. Both bodies said that after an extensive internal audit it was determined that the issue was isolated to January’s Assembly meeting and that past meetings were not affected.
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