Deliberative assemblies are finding their feet – but also facing political barriers

On Friday the 16th of October, the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College hosted a webinar entitled ‘Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom’, which you can watch here. The workshop heavily featured people putting sortition into practice right now, and so the overall focus was very much on deliberative assemblies in advisory roles, rather than non-deliberative juries or lawmaking roles. If you’d rather not spend the whole day watching a videoconference, here’s the CliffsNotes:

David Van Reybrouck, who gave one of the keynotes, helped design the new citizens’ council and assembly system in the parliament of the German-speaking region of Belgium – an area with only 76 000 citizens, but devolved powers similar to Scotland’s. The system involves a permanent citizens’ council and temporary citizens’ assemblies, both selected by sortition, as well as a permanent secretary who acts as a sort of ombudsman for the system. The council sets the agenda for the assemblies, and chases up their conclusions in the regional parliament – essentially acting as an official lobby group for the assemblies’ recommendations. Politicians have to report back to the council a year after each assembly, setting out how they’ve acted on their recommendations and, if they’ve deviated from them, why. In this respect it is a major step forward in the institutionalisation of sortition. Under the Belgian constitution, however, sortitional bodies cannot be given legislative power, so the assemblies are restricted to an advisory role until and unless momentum can be built for a constitutional amendment.

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View from participants of a citizens’ assembly

This is published with a few days’ delay – too late for readers to join the meeting being announced. If you are a contributor submitting a time sensitive post, please email Yoram Gat to make sure it is published promptly.

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation, now known as Democracy Without Elections, have 2 special guest speakers at our Chapter Meeting on Tuesday 13 October at 9pm Eastern US time; both were participants in a citizens’ assembly. They are from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and became friends.

If you would like join us and hear their perspective of being on the inside of a citizens’ assembly, contact me.

Sortition to select a Board of Directors

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation is changing its name to Democracy Without Elections. We are still affiliated with the Sortition Foundation.

We will be using an online democratic lottery on Sunday to select nine Directors for our new Board from our 80+ members. No stratification will be used, and no preference given to whether a person is active or not. Do you know of any Boards who use sortition to select their Directors?

We have a new website: https://www.democracywithoutelections.org/. It was determined that the website will be geared towards people who have just heard about democratic lotteries. Contact me if you have suggestions for the website. Obviously the citizens’ assembly and history sections need expansion.

The question of sortition generates a heated debate in the French Senate

The following is a translation of an AFP article.

Reform of the CESE: The question of sortition generates a heated debate in the French Senate
October 15, 2020

Representative democracy vs. participative democracy: the question of the usage of allotment of citizen for participation in public consultations has generated a heated debate in the Senate during the discussion of the proposal for the reform of the Council for the Economy, Society and Environment (CESE).

The organic law bill, adopted by the National Assembly in September was approved on Thursday in first reading by the Senate with 292 votes for (LR, UC, PS, the large majority of RDSE, LIRT) and 50 abstentions (RDPI – mostly the LREM members, CRCE – mostly the communists, EST).

Assembly members and Senators are now going to try to reach an agreed text in a joint committee. If that fails, the National Assembly will have the last word.

During his speech in front of Congress in 2017, President Emmanuel Macron spoke about transforming the CESE, a little-known consultative institution which convenes representatives of employers, of workers’ unions and of NGOs at the Palais d’Iéna, into “a chamber of the future, where all the stakeholders of the nation take part”.

Short of a constitutional reform, the organic law bill aims to breathe new life into this institution in order to respond to strong demand for participative democracy in public opinion. Notably, the bill streamlines petitioning the CESE for it to form an opinion on economic, social and environmental questions raised by the public. The number of required signatures would be reduced from 500,000 to 150,000. The senators have approved this procedure with some reservations.

Moreover, opposing “any legitimization of sortition”, the right-wing Senate majority has removed any possibility for the CESE to organize “public consultations” based on allotment modeled after the Citizen Climate Convention. The removal of this central tool has been debated at length, with the government and the Left failing to reintroduce it through amendments during session.
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