A terrible admission of weakness

Lenny Ferretti, a law student at the University of Mons in Belgium, writes the following in the Carte Blanche section of Le Vif:

In Belgium there are elections every five years. There are directly elected assemblies and others, which are elected indirectly. The Senate, which is the second chamber of the Federal Parliament has been elected indirectly since the Sixth Reform of 2014. Today, some tell us that it is useless and that it should be eliminated and replaced by allotted citizens.

First, it is good to recall that the Senate creates bicameralism, that Belgium is a federal state (article 1 of the Constitution), and that no federal state in the world is unicameral.

Sortition is profoundly anti-democratic and would require training for the relevant citizens which would imply additional costs… On the other hand, citizen panels can and should be convened. Their work can guide our elected officials, but we must distinguish consultation from decision-making itself. It is a question of representativity and of legitimacy and hence of democracy.

Such an idea constitutes a terrible admission of weakness on the side of the political system and particularly on the side of the members of parliament. It implies shifting the responsibility onto the citizens of what they should be expecting, and what they have the right to expect: effectiveness, and thus the creation of a decent and secure life, to the extent possible, for their children. If we have elected officials, it is so that they assume the responsibilities that we have vested in them through elections by all!

It is not by proposing original and/or complex ideas such as those described here that the political system is going to bring the citizen back in and produce the expected results. The political system must assume its responsibilities, and address the fact that the nation spirit has been eroding within the political class.

Finding Genius Podcast

I’ve been meaning to post about this, but sadly the end of term proved rather hectic for me. I was interviewed in April about sortition for the Finding Genius podcast. It was a good interview–wish I’d seen the interview with Simon Pek beforehand, as the topic of sortition inside of firms came up. The picture they found of me is ten years old, but I’m not going to complain about that! The podcast can be accessed here: Revolutionizing Democracy – The Benefits Of Sortition and Selected Citizens Councils with Dr. Peter Stone.

1936: For the Random Selection of the Chamber of Deputies

Hugh Pope is a British reporter and author. He is also the son of Maurice Pope, a linguist and a specialist in Classical studies and antiquity. It turns out that when Maurice Pope died in 2019 he left a manuscript which he wrote decades earlier titled “Sortitional Democracy”. Hugh has now undertaken to edit and to publish this manuscript, and it seems that in the process he has become a sortition activist. I certainly hope to read and review the book once it is published later this year.

It seems that, now that he is running in the sortition circles, Pope has met David Van Reybrouk and the latter has informed him about the existence of a book published in 1936 in France called Pour le Tirage au Sort de la Chambre des Députés (For the Random Selection of the Chamber of Deputies). The book was written by an anonymous former French Assembly-member.

This book marks a very early contribution to the modern consideration of sortition. In fact, it is the earliest book-length treatment of sortition in the entire history of political writing, as far as I am aware, if we don’t count Headlam’s Election by lot at Athens, which is mostly historical and its political-ideological aspects are somewhat secondary (and which is also aimed at dismissing sortition rather than considering it seriously).
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Sortition and feminism

Through a pingback to a 2013 post of mine on this subject, I became aware of two pieces on the issue of sortition and feminism. The first is “Random Voting and the Path to Gender Equality”, a recent post by Mariam Nasser on the website of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut. Here is an excerpt:

We desperately need women in politics. Through sortition, no candidate is at an unfair advantage that usually breeds sexism and/or different forms of discrimination. Women no longer have to fear biased public opinion or the inability to procure campaigning funds due to a lack of bank and corporation backing, with sexist political justifications, of course. The corporations need the candidate to push their agenda, and if the voters are not supporting the female candidate, the corporations lose their money on a failed campaign. Women no longer have to fear misogynistic “she only got there because she slept around” remarks from others. They become free to exercise their political rights in a positive, engaging environment that fosters communication and wants what is best for society as a whole.

Nasser’s post cites a 2015 paper by Arina Antonia Iacob from the National University of Political Science and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania:

A feminist perspective on political sortition

Abstract: In this paper, I will try to analyze the extent in which feminists might take part in the political comeback of sortition. In the first section I will discuss the political implication of this mechanism and the arguments raised by those in favor of a political lottery. In the second section there will be an emphasis on the importance of descriptive representation in general, focusing on the feminist perspective, while talking about the idea of implementing gender quotas. Also, I will put forward a discussion surrounding various empirical studies that revealed the effects of gender quotas. At last, in the third section, I will try to point out the negative effects of gender quotas and the manner in which these can be avoided by using sortition, by referencing the basic principles of this random mechanism which can be used in association with the feminist principles.

Public support for allotted citizens’ assemblies in Western Europe

A new paper in the European Journal of Political Research (full text) provides data about popular support for allotted citizens’ assemblies in Western Europe. The countries surveyed were: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.

Public Support for Deliberative Citizens’ Assemblies Selected through Sortition: Evidence from 15 Countries

Jean-Benoit Pilet*, Damien Bol**, Davide Vittori*, and Emilien Paulis*

*Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
** King’s College London, United Kingdom


As representative democracy is increasingly criticized, a new institution is becoming popular among academics and practitioners: deliberative citizens’ assemblies. To evaluate whether these assemblies can deliver their promise of re-engaging the dissatisfied of representative politics, we explore who supports them and why. We build on a unique survey conducted with representative samples of 15 Western European countries and find, first, that the most supportive respondents are those who are less educated, have a low sense of political competence and an anti-elite sentiment. Thus, support does come from the dissatisfied. Second, we find that this support is for a part ‘outcome contingent’, in the sense that it changes with people’s expectations regarding the policy outcome from deliberative citizens’ assemblies. This second finding nuances the first one and suggests that while deliberative citizens’ assemblies convey some hope to re-engaged disengaged citizens, this is conditioned to the hope of a favourable outcome.

Despite emphasizing the “deliberative” label in the title of the paper, the question measuring support for allotted assemblies makes no mention of this obfuscatory term and instead focuses directly on decision-making power:

Overall, do you think it is a good idea to let a group of randomly-selected citizens make decisions instead of politicians on a scale going from 0 (very bad idea) to 10 (very good idea)?

The median response was 4.32, which is pretty impressive for such a radical idea. The chart below shows the distribution of responses. It is interesting to note that (if I read the chart correctly) the two countries with the lowest median support for the idea (3/10) are Denmark and Norway – the two Scandinavian countries in the survey. Those countries are among those with the highest level in the Western world of satisfaction with current government.