The sortition challenge

It is always encouraging and useful to find people making arguments against sortition. It is encouraging because when people make an argument against sortition rather than dismiss it reflexively out of hand, it means that sortition is being taken seriously enough to merit refutation. It is useful because the arguments being presented reflect ways in which the prevalent ideology rationalizes the electoral mechanism. Understanding this ideology better enables sortition advocates to be more effective in dislodging this entrenched convention.

The following was posted on Reddit by a user going under the label ‘cpacker’.

The sortition challenge

Some energetic arguments hereabouts have been launched in favor of sortition, which is the selection of representatives by lottery. The justification for it is that — to oversimplify a bit — voters are stupid. But this is directly contrary to the idea of the social contract, which depends on the electorate believing that they have a proprietary stake in the system. The less stupid the electorate, therefore, the less likely they are to want to leave their choice of representatives to chance. Therefore the ultimate success of a system based on sortition depends on keeping voters permanently stupid.

It should be remembered that the internal dynamics of legislative assemblies themselves are not purely democratic. The U.S. congress, for example, is actually run more like a conglomeration of fraternal societies, with committee chairmanships allocated by seniority, etc. Negotiating this kind of system requires specialized expertise of a political kind. Voters should be able to size up the likelihood of their representatives being able to wield this kind of expertise.

Nicholas Gruen wants to give a citizen jury a “very, very small power”

Nicholas Gruen, an occasional contributor to this blog, has appeared on the Australian radio show Overnight with Michael McLaren and talked to Luke Grant about using sortition to add “a whole new part to Australian democracy”.

Like quite a few other prominent advocates for sortition, Gruen’s rhetoric tends to minimize the oppressive outcomes of the current system, and in doing so becomes incoherent. On the one hand, Gruen argues rather forcefully that the electoral system is non-representative and is really about promoting the interests of powerful organizations and people and of certain sectors in the population. However, at the same time, Gruen never tires of iterating his commitment to keeping essentially that same system – which he insists on calling a “democracy” – and emphasizing that his goal is simply “moderating the worst” of this system using citizen juries in one way or another.