Sortition in Government Series

Terry Bouricius will be leading a series of presentations on applying sortition to government at the next several monthly meetings of Democracy Without Elections, formerly the United States Chapter of the Sortition Foundation. The next monthly meeting will be held online on Tuesday 15 December at 9pm Eastern, 6 Pacific (US time). Terry’s topic is “Underlying legitimacy of election vs. sortition,” and further described as…

“Both election and sortition claim to be representative forms of democracy, but they have very different historic roots and very different bases for legitimacy. The different methods are likely to deliver very different policy outcomes as well. Law making using sortition dates back thousands of years, and is recently undergoing a resurgence.”

The meeting includes reports from Interest Groups and from our new Board of Directors. Contact Owen for access to the meeting.

Future online meeting presentations in this series will include discussions on

  • Why elections are a bad tool for running a democracy
  • Sortition representation and accountability
  • Why having one chamber elected and one chamber by sortition is problematic
  • How to organize law-making with sortition
  • Aspects of Sortition: impartiality, anti-corruption, representativeness, diversity benefits
  • Sortition role in the executive branch
  • Transition strategies to sortition democracy

8 Responses

  1. The different methods are likely to deliver very different policy outcomes as well.

    Owen/Terry,

    That’s a strong claim for a purely structural change — how do you justify it? Presumably you can also provide some guidance as to the policy outcomes that are likely to result from a switch to sortition. This is a bit of a hot potato as those who don’t subscribe to the particular agenda that is likely to come from a sortition democracy will be opposed to the change.

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  2. Keith, I’m not sure why you doubt legislative juries would make different decisions from the popularly elected politicians that now decide laws.

    Of course the decisions will tend to be different for all kinds of reasons. (For example, juries do not have an interest in laws that serve the self-interest of the politicians that now hold power, regarding for example laws about elections, the media, political corruption, transparency in government, and protections for whistleblowers.)

    I do of course agree that the case for sortition should be made in a strictly nonpartisan way, and is or should be about democracy, political equality, anti-corruption, informed rule by the people, and not for example about furthering socialist or conservative views.

    When the ballot initiative and veto referendum were being introduced at the state level in the US, different social/political movements and constituencies believed it would favour getting laws that they wanted. Some of them guessed wrong. But their various hopes that it would further their agenda were helpful to getting these amazing reforms introduced.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Simon,

    Of course the small set of laws where the interests of elected politicians are directly concerned might well have different outcomes in a sortition democracy. But I got the impression from Terry’s abstract that this would be true in the more general sense, so would be keen to see his response.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Keith,
    Having different sorts of people with different motivations, class, age, and education mixture, and different incentives making decisions makes different outcomes likely. This is especially true if deliberation allows mini-public members to add their unique knowledge and life experiences into the process (what can be called “latent community knowledge”) that is unknown by relatively homogeneous elected representatives. The sortition design that you favor, which disallows mini-public deliberation, but instead requires that only political parties draft proposals might not generate very different outcomes than an elected system, but a more robust sortition system likely would.

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  5. Terry,

    That may be so, but what steps would you take to ensure that the outcomes would align with popular preferences? I don’t see how that is possible with a “robust” sortition system.

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  6. Keith,

    Ahh… there’s the rub. The assumption is that some policies adopted by a democratic lottery process will NOT be in accordance with “popular preference,” for the simple reason that until people become well-informed on a topic, their preference is often based on a faulty understanding. The hope is that as democratic lotteries prove themselves, more and more people will come to trust their products. As a simple example, it is my preference that my city not raise my water rates. If politicians or bureaucrats in the water department raise my rates, I grudgingly accept this, but have a suspicion that maybe it wasn’t necessary, or caused by incompetence, or the like. If a jury of ordinary people like me took a good amount of time and dug into the facts and background of the situation and listened to supporters and opponents of the rate increase and concluded that it was necessary, I am MORE likely to accept it as a good decision, even though it is not my preference.

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  7. Terry,

    Your choice of examples is a good indication of the difference between us. In any case other than natural monopolies (like water supply), people choose between the various options available and go for the one that, in their view, provides best value (not necessarily the cheapest), and providers that don’t live up to public preferences go bust. This is exactly how the Kovner-Sutherland party system is intended to work — although the elected representatives are “relatively homogeneous”, they are strongly motivated to track popular preferences, and all that is needed is to switch to the superminority principle — the lower the proposal threshold, the greater the diversity of preferences reflected. Your proposal, as you acknowledge, is based on no more than optimistic speculation:

    >The hope is that as democratic lotteries prove themselves, more and more people will come to trust their products.

    And if men were angels . . .

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  8. Terry:> The assumption is that some policies adopted by a democratic lottery process will NOT be in accordance with “popular preference,” for the simple reason that until people become well-informed on a topic, their preference is often based on a faulty understanding.

    There is an affinity between this statement and the classic definition of false consciousness. As I’ve said before, you can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but . . .

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