Consensus in this group

I would like to identify the ideas held by members of this group that reach the level of consensus. Can I assume that there is a general consensus that sortition is better than elections?

At the other end, there appears to not be consensus that using sortition to replace elections in a legislative body can be accomplished using one sortition-selected body that does it all vs. an agenda-setting sortition-selected body working in conjunction with one or more policy-deciding mini-publics. And there is not consensus about whether a bicameral legislature is effective if one chamber is elected and one is sortition-selected.

What are the ideas in the group that actually reach the level of consensus?

31 Responses

  1. You can’t assume that I think that sortition is better than elections. It may be, but
    1) no-one can know.
    2) it’s academic (in the bad sense) that it’s not a choice that confronts anyone.

    It is DIFFERENT to elections and in all sorts of good ways that would address some of the pathologies produced by elections – and which seem to be getting worse. So it seems commonsensical, to argue, as I did here that we should increase the presence of sortition within the current system.

    As experience with sortition grew, my own hunch – that we should use sortition a lot and downgrade the significance we give elections – might strengthen as a conviction or it might not.

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  2. Agree with Nick. The only (near) consensus that I detect is the potential for large quasi-mandatory randomly-selected juries to determine the outcome of legislative proposals generated by other means.

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  3. I’d guess we’re also pretty united in our low opinion of elected politicians, but that’s not exactly a /distinctive/ feature of this group…

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  4. I’m OK with the politicians, but not with what they do or say – in other words, knowing quite a few of them, I couldn’t do any better myself in the circumstances

    The problem is the situation they’re in.

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  5. Agree with Nick

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  6. Maybe we could agree on the Code of good practice. But without the references (or preferences for) to referenda of course in our (www.meerdemocratie.be) documents. https://equalitybylot.com/2019/08/07/code-of-good-practice-for-allotted-mini-publics-involved-with-legislation/

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  7. In order to avoid the discussion I propose in the Code, for a ‘Level 1 initiative”, that the people have the choice tos ask for a binding referendum (Referendum at citizens initiative, a plebiscite or referendum at the initiative of the government is, for us, not a democratic instrument and does not exist in Switserland) or a binding Citizens Assembly. This way also that choice, referendum or Peoples Assembly appointed by lot, belongs to the people. Is that acceptable for the sortinistas?

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  8. Paul, I think that might be too arcane and detailed for a general consensus. I think we’ll need to go for a soundbite like Alex’s “make multiple proposals and let a citizen jury decide”. It’s catchy, uncontroversial and presses all the right buttons. After all, who could be opposed to the jury principle?

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  9. I think it would be hard to find common ground between the “reformers” and the “radicals”.

    For example, the ‘select between elite-provided alternatives’ model is worse than useless in my view.

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  10. Ironically enough, one area of consensus is that consensus-based assemblies need to be de-emphasized, or abandoned altogether. This also goes along with separating proposal making from final passes (proposing and disposing).

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  11. Bearing in mind that all alternatives would be subject to a popular mandate (and the number would only be limited by operational constraints), It would be interesting to know how many share Yoram’s view that Alex’s project is “worse than useless”. Many (most?) of those involved with the podcast series discussed on this forum seemed to find it congenial. Needless to say reformers like us would claim that Yoram’s alternative soundbite (appoint a citizen jury and leave it up to them) would be fundamentally undemocratic, for reasons that have been rehearsed at considerable length on this forum. It’s true that reformers and those seeking to blow up the system would be unlikely to agree but, apart from Yoram, who is in the latter camp? Certainly not the Sortition Foundation, Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy, New Democracy etc. etc. He may even be in a minority of one.

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  12. To Owen’s Question: “Can I assume that there is a general consensus that sortition is better than elections?”

    Absolutely no.

    Both tools, elections and sortition, have their role in a future political system. The old saying: To a hammer every problem is a nail. But some problems need a screwdriver…

    Maybe, one consensus item in this forum could be:
    1. Sortition is under-utilised for political decision making in today’s deficient democracies.

    Not sure about a second one:
    2. Sortition is the best method for deliberative choices between political alternatives which preserves representativeness.

    @Yoram: If we criticised all “elite-provided alternatives” there would be a big problem. Yes, there is a Boss Tweed issue when alternatives submitted came just from a narrow, formal elite (the high-born, the rich, …). Yet, anyone capable of thinking up or executing an alternative is in truth part of a functional elite, merit-based by competence or virtue. And it is self-evident that we want the best possible alternatives on our list of choices, such as only the best of us can devise.

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  13. Agree with Hubertus

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  14. 1. “Make multiple proposals and let a citizen jury decide” seems a good catch-phrase to me. “Proposals” here meaning proposed laws. So, I agree on that.

    2. The system for providing multiple proposed laws needs to be well designed to ensure good laws are proposed, including those that are as much as possible preferable to all the possible alternatives in the informed judgement of a jury. (As those are the laws most likely to be enacted by a jury, the deciding of laws by jury helps encourage the working out and proposing of such laws.)

    I think we all agree on this, yes?

    I agree with Yoram’s concern that we cannot allow elites to subvert democratic lawmaking by being gatekeepers that block laws juries would support from being referred to juries for a decision. This means that the system for providing multiple proposed laws needs to include robustly democratic ways for laws to be worked out and proposed (for example, but not limited to, jury-chosen law commissions that can propose laws, and allowing any citizen group that wishes to to propose laws). There is no reason why there should be only one way in which proposed laws can come before a legislative jury, and other things being equal I think it better that there are several.

    3. I don’t object to some proposed laws being decided by popular vote, provided a jury decides (after a fair hearing on a level playing field) that it is preferable for the particular proposed law in question to be decided by popular vote rather than by jury. (So, I think I agree with Paul on this point.)

    Popular vote is (for reasons I and others have outlined) so flawed a method of deciding a law, that I would hope a jury would almost never opt for it.

    4. Choosing public officials by popular election is completely unnecessary, and is not desirable. Choosing them by jury is far better.

    5. I am o.k. with a public official being chosen by popular election, provided a jury decides it is preferable to selection by jury for that particular public office, (after a fair hearing on a level playing field). And provided juries have the power to determine how that public office is chosen in the future, including the power to switch from popular election to jury election.

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  15. I like Hubertus’ distillation. Here’s a similar forumlation.

    Elections are deficient / problematic.

    Sortition is under-appreciated and under-utilized.

    Another implicit point of high consensus, is probably that direct democracy via referenda would not be much of an improvement in the current environment.

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  16. @Simon: “provided a jury decides that it is preferable for the particular proposed law in question to be decided by popular vote rather than by jury”

    That part is of course correct. It is however necessary to add a second trigger to ensure the “by the people”.

    Why? If only the jury can decide whether the public gets to vote that’s the tail wagging the dog. It should also be a minority right of the people (with an about 10% threshold) to demand and enforce a popular referendum to confirm the jury decision, or not.

    We are however (hopefully all in this forum) in agreement any such referendum is highly likely to follow the properly deliberated, documented and communicated decision of the jury. In fact, we sortitionists must be able demonstrate that the same decision is arrived at within the confidence level of the quantitative sortition parameters.

    BTW: I call this method an “acclamation” and it is one of three methods to make jury decision falsifiable. A volume of acclamations of roughly the volume of Switzerland’s referenda should be perfectly sustainable.

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  17. Hubertus,

    > It should also be a minority right of the people (with an about 10% threshold) to demand and enforce a popular referendum to confirm the jury decision, or not.

    > We are however (hopefully all in this forum) in agreement any such referendum is highly likely to follow the properly deliberated, documented and communicated decision of the jury.

    Are you saying that if 10% of the public want a law decided by popular vote rather than by a legislative jury, then it should be decided by popular vote (referendum)? How will 10% of the public express that demand?

    Are you saying that laws approved by legislative juries should only go into effect if approved by popular vote (referendum)?

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  18. I’m highly suspicious of citizen-initiated referendums, but there are circumstances where they can produce good outcomes ratifying a broad shift in community sentiment – e.g. same sex marriage and abortion in Ireland. And circumstances where they are catastrophic as with Brexit.

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  19. @Simon,
    Q: Are you saying that if 10% of the public want a law decided by popular vote rather than by a legislative jury, then it should be decided by popular vote (referendum)?
    A: I hold it that falsifiability is an indispensable demarcation of proper decisions, political or otherwise. It follows logically that we need a test method whether any jury decision correlates to that by the people. That method is a referendum, so: Yes. However, I call this new type of “referendum preceded by a jury process” an “acclamation” as it is a very different animal to today’s referenda (where @Nick is rightfully suspicious of manipulations and biases).

    Q: How will 10% of the public express that demand?
    A: Austria’s constitution already institutionalises a “Volksbegehren” (popular request).

    Q: Are you saying that laws approved by legislative juries should only go into effect if approved by popular vote (referendum)?
    I am saying that ultimately, lawmaking for the people should be by the people and that management by exception will make a highly efficient mechanism to ensure this. Hence, in the normal course of events, a jury decision will be sufficient but in the case of cases the 10% or the jury itself can request an acclamation to confirm a jury decision.Any rejection in excess of the confidence level may indicate that something is wrong with the jury process, thus providing an evidence-based learning opportunity to improve it.

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  20. Nicholas,

    > I’m highly suspicious of citizen-initiated referendums … Brexit.

    I think the classic form of “citizen-initiated referendums” is the ballot initiative that exists in about 24 US states.

    Brexit is surely a government-initiated referendum, not a “citizen-initiated” one? Unlike the ballot initiative in the said US states it was not initiated by a petition signed by citizens, and there is no mechanism for citizens to bring another initiative to reverse it. (In California and the other initiative states, a law passed by initiative can always be reversed by another initiative, as you probably know.)

    In any case, perhaps like you, I do not think referendums, whether citizen-initiated or government initiated are a good method of deciding laws, though I do think the ballot initiative and veto referendum are a big improvement on politicians having a complete monopoly on deciding laws.

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  21. Thanks Simon

    I don’t know that much about citizen-initiated referendums in the US, but I do know that proposition 13 has seen California go from solvency with one of the best education systems in the States to being in and out of insolvency for decades now. And that’s what I’d expect – that CISs would be exploited by those with the resources to mislead people into voting for them. As I understand it, this is one reason that Oregon set up its citizen reviews. Of course I expect CISs will have done good things too.

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  22. Hubertus

    > I am saying that ultimately, lawmaking for the people should be by the people and that management by exception will make a highly efficient mechanism to ensure this. Hence, in the normal course of events, a jury decision will be sufficient but in the case of cases the 10% or the jury itself can request an acclamation to confirm a jury decision.

    We agree that legislative juries should decide laws “in the normal course of events.” I am o.k. with a jury decision being referred by the jury to a popular vote for a final decision.

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  23. Hubertus,

    (I managed to accidentally post that before finishing. Here’s the rest of my reply:)

    I take it that you are saying that if 10% of the public sign a petition to refer a law passed by a legislative jury to a popular vote, it will be referred to a popular vote.

    A 10% signature requirement (10% of the public signing a petition) is onerous. That will make the referral of legislative jury decisions to a popular vote rare, which I think is a good thing.

    However, signature requirements are not democratic. If paid signature collectors are allowed (as they are in the US) then a petition with enough signatures can be bought (by hiring a professional signature gathering business to hire signature collectors and get the job done). This is plutocratic, not democratic.

    The alternative to paid signature gatherers is volunteers. This is not democratic either, because it means that getting the law on the ballot for a popular vote is determined by whether those who oppose it can mobilize a sufficiently large and determined army of volunteers. Recruiting, training and organizing that army of volunteers will also cost a lot of money, though generally a lot less than paid signature gatherers.

    Just because a large army of volunteers can be mobilized for some purpose, does not mean that most people agree with that purpose, nor that most people would were they to become well-informed about it. If most people don’t want a proposal referred to a popular vote, or would not if they became well-informed about it, then I fail to see how referring it to a popular vote would be democratic. It would only be a reflection of who has the human and financial resources to meet a 10% signature requirement.

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  24. Nicholas,

    > And that’s what I’d expect – that CISs would be exploited by those with the resources to mislead people into voting for them. As I understand it, this is one reason that Oregon set up its citizen reviews. Of course I expect CISs will have done good things too.

    I agree with your point, but I don’t know what “S” in “CIS” stands for.

    Even with regard to the good initiatives that have been passed by popular vote in California (such as top two open primary elections which many think are big improvement), I think better versions of them would have resulted if a well-designed system of legislative juries had been used.

    The ballot initiative is strongly supported by the public everywhere it exists, including in California. I think that is a promising indicator of the potential level of support legislative juries could have.

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  25. Gentlemen, I respect your opinion but personally am far less worried about the undue influences of plutocracy or abuse of the Madness of Crowds once we have a properly institutionalised citizen jury.

    I predict that CJ authority will be rarely successfully challenged, not even by powerful moneyed actors. We all have seen a glimpse of this future when the South Australian Nuclear Jury’s decision prevailed.

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  26. Hubertus, while I’m broadly supportive of your point, though less trenchant about it, your example doesn’t really demonstrate much at all. The Premier knew that the policy he was taking to the citizens’ jury was highly unpopular – radioactive even if I might use a loaded expression. He hoped that the citizens’ jury thinking rationally about it would give it the green light.

    Making a rational decision on that subject was about as difficult a task to give a nascent process as you can imagine. And the process was run badly and lost the trust of a lot of the jurors. Whether it would have made any difference, I don’t know but with that having occurred the result was a foregone conclusion.

    At least this came out of it which I think is a major ‘hack’ that can be used in all sorts of circumstances.

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  27. Thanks Simon

    I agree with you and CISs are the plural of a CIS :)

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  28. This discussion is interesting, even if we have wandered away from Owen’s original question, and rather than figuring out what we all agree on, are explaining what WE each support.

    I do want to add one response to Hubertus’s statement that
    >”any such referendum is highly likely to follow the properly deliberated, documented and communicated decision of the jury.”

    I don’t think there is much reason to assume this, as superficial impressions have no reason to track with carefully considered and informed investigation. As one example, one recommendation of an Irish Constitutional Convention minipublic was to lower the minimum age for president, but this carefully considered recommendation was rejected in the referendum by an overwhelming vote of:
    Votes in Favour: 520,898
    Votes Against: 1,412,602
    I don’t think there was much of a media manipulation, merely a gut feeling that a president should be sort of older.

    I agree that a mini-public should be ABLE to call for a referendum, if, for example, they believe public acceptance of the new law is more important than the actual value of the new law. (The minimum age of a president is a good example).

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  29. So… The only point of consensus is that sortition should be used more often?

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  30. We’re a discussion group, not a political party. Lots of different views should be expected shouldn’t they?

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  31. Terry:>I agree that a mini-public should be ABLE to call for a referendum, if, for example, they believe public acceptance of the new law is more important than the actual value of the new law. (The minimum age of a president is a good example).

    This is a good example of how a minipublic needs to track the prejudices of the target population for it to be perceived as legitimate. It’s a moot point as to whether the disparity between the constitutional convention and the referendum was an indication of the unrepresentative nature of a voluntary sample or whether their preference for reducing the minimum age was a consequence of the deliberative process. It was probably a bit of both but, as Rousseau understood, the republic of reasons cannot rule unaided. His remedy was a civic religion, whereas liberal democrats would insist that the people should rule — warts and all.

    >We’re a discussion group, not a political party.

    I agree with Nick and it’s great that EbL reflects a wide variety of views. But if we want to actually achieve anything then we should focus on something we agree on, hence my preference for the Kovner Formula (make multiple proposals and let the minipublic decide). And most of us would reject simplistic notions that sortition is better than election — that’s like comparing chalk and cheese. Working polities need a combination of the two, hence the need to agree on https://equalitybylot.com/2011/03/03/what-sortition-can-and-cannot-do/

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