Sortition in 2021

Equality-by-Lot’s traditional yearly review post.

The most significant piece of sortition-related news of the year was, in my view, the findings of an opinion poll run in four Western European countries – the UK, France, Italy and Germany – regarding the place of sortition in government. The survey found that 27%-30% among those asked support using allotted bodies to systematically complement the work of parliament.

As always, sortition has been most prominent in 2021 in the Francophone world. Early in the year, Macron’s administration in France formed an allotted panel monitoring the Coronavirus vaccination campaign. Not much has been heard of it since. The utilization of allotment by the Macron administration has become frequent enough to merit condemnation as well as ridicule. Sortition’s political presence is such that it draws regular criticism from elite writers, but also some support. The journal Raisons politiques devoted a large part of an issue to sortition. In Switzerland, a proposal to select judges by lot among qualified candidates failed at the polls.

However, sortition had some presence elsewhere as well in 2021. An allotted assembly was convened as part of the COP26 UN climate change conference. In Bosnia and Herzegovina a citizen assembly was called to express its opinion on constitutional and electoral questions. Scotland’s Citizen Assembly published its report. One of the recommendations in the report was to use allotted bodies to scrutinize government proposals and parliamentary bills. An allotted assembly about the climate was discussed in Austria as well. Ireland held a citizens’ assembly on gender equality. Washington state allotted a climate assembly. In the wake of the protests following the murder of George Floyd, allotted police oversight commissions were discussed in California. A CS course at Harvard dealt with sortition and an algorithm for quota sampling from unrepresentative volunteers made it into Nature.

The Japanese journal Law and Philosophy devoted an issue to “Just Lotteries”. Hélène Landemore, Yale political science professor and author of the book Open Democracy, has promoted sortition in an interview in The Nation magazine and in an article in Foreign Policy magazine. The Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College held a conference about sortition.

Sortition was proposed as a way to create a governing body for the Internet, as tool to counter the allure of the Chinese system, as a way to save the UK and to stop popular but “undemocratic or illiberal” leaders from getting elected, and as a way to appoint public servants. A paper discussed sortition with a focus on India. In Massachusetts a letter to the newspaper introduced its readers to the idea of allotted citizen assemblies. A new book asserted that sortition is the only way to achieve a demcoratic system, while an article claimed that sortition is unable to address the biggest problem of the existing system, citizen apathy.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks to Yoram for putting this together every year. Another initiative that we should mention is America in One Room: Climate and Energy — a large Deliberative Poll (926 participants) on climate change: https://cdd.stanford.edu/2021/america-in-one-room-climate-and-energy/
    The DP had a non-deliberative control group, but as they didn’t get the information briefing or advocacy either, it doesn’t (IMO) show to what extent small-group deliberation is a significant causal factor in changing the opinion of the participants (In the Bloomfield Track CA, for example, it was found that the information stage was the most important).

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  2. You could possibly leave this for next year, when the actual vote takes place, but since France is already in full “run-up to the presidential election” mode, I think it is worth mentioning here that one of the candidates is carrying in his programme a proposal for ‘opt-in’ sortition in a law-making chamber (as opposed to a merely consultative, non-binding assembly).

    https://equalitybylot.com/2017/04/07/a-prominent-french-presidential-candidate-makes-sortition-part-of-his-programme/#comment-42669

    Mélenchon is currently fifth in vote intention at the first round, but considering that the first four candidates are either right or far right, I would not entirely exclude the possibility of enough leftist voters coalescing around him so that he can make it to the second round.

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