The best possible system of representation and democracy we can imagine

Reddit user subheight640 has a post presenting an uncompromising argument in favor of sortition:

Why randomly choosing people to serve in government may be the best way to select our politicians

So I’m a huge advocate of something known as sortition, where people are randomly selected to serve in a legislature. Unfortunately the typical gut reaction against sortition is bewilderment and skepticism. How could we possibly trust ignorant, stupid, normal people to become our leaders?

Democracy by Lottery

Imagine a Congress that actually looks like America. It’s filled with nurses, farmers, engineers, waitresses, teachers, accountants, pastors, soldiers, stay-at-home-parents, and retirees. They are conservatives, liberals, and moderates from all parts of the country and all walks of life.

In a typical implementation, a lottery is used to draw around 100 to 1000 people to form one house of a Congress. Service is voluntary, for a fixed term, and well paid. Sortition gives normal people to examine the evidence and deliberate on issues as a way to scale up direct democracy. To alleviate the problem of rational ignorance, chosen members could be advised or trained by experts. Because of random sampling, a sortition Citizens’ Assembly would have superior diversity in every conceivable dimension compared to any elected system. Sortition is therefore the ultimate method of creating a proportionally representative Congress.

Comparing to Elections

Sortition stands in stark contrast with what all elections offer. All electoral methods are a system of choosing a “natural aristocracy” of societal elites. This has been observed by philosophers such as Aristotle since ancient Greek elections 2400 years ago. In other words, all elections are biased in favor of those with wealth, affluence, and power.

Moreover, all voters, including you and me, are rationally ignorant. Almost none of us have the time nor resources to adequately monitor and manage our legislators. In the aggregate as voters, we vote ignorantly, oftentimes solely due to party affiliation or the name or gender of the candidate. We assume somebody else is doing the monitoring, and hopefully we’d read about it in the news. And indeed it is somebody else – marketers, advertisers, lobbyists, and special interests – who are paying huge sums of money to influence your opinion. Every election is a hope that we can refine this ignorance into competence. IN CONTRAST, in Citizens’ Assemblies, normal citizens are given the time, resources, and education to become informed. Normal citizens are also given the opportunity to deliberate with one another to come to compromise. IN CONTRAST, politicians constantly refuse to compromise for fear of upsetting ignorant voters – voters who did not have the time nor opportunity to research the issues in depth. Our modern, shallow, ignorant management of politicians has led to an era of unprecedented polarization, deadlock, and government ineptitude.

A nice contribution is offering a series of proposals ordered by their “extremeness”:


As far as the ultimate form sortition would take, I will list options from least to most extreme:

  1. The least extreme is the use of Citizen Assemblies in an advisory capacity for legislatures or referendums, in a process called “Citizens Initiative Review” (CIR). These CIR’s are already implemented for example in Oregon. Here, citizens are drafted by lot to review ballot propositions and list pro’s and con’s of the proposals.
  2. Many advocate for a two-house Congress, one elected and one randomly selected. This system attempts to balance the pro’s and cons of both sortition and election. This also allows each house to check and balance the power of the other.
  3. Rather than have citizens directly govern, random citizens can be used exclusively as intermediaries to elect and fire politicians as a sort of functional electoral college. The benefit here is that citizens have the time and resources to deploy a traditional hiring & managing procedure, rather than a marketing and campaigning procedure, to choose nominees. This also removes the typical criticism that you can’t trust normal people to govern and write laws.
  4. Most radically, multi-body sortition constructs checks and balances by creating several sortition bodies – one decides on what issues to tackle, one makes proposals, one decides on proposals, one selects the bureaucracy, etc, and completely eliminates elected office.

The section addressing common objections is concise and well written as well. In all, it is rather startling how a short text by an activist can be so much more coherent and well argued than so many articles written by professional journalists in the most respected media outlets and than so many much longer texts written by academics in prestigious institutions. It turns out that a life of intellectual work can be a debilitating burden just as much as it can a source of strength.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: