Sortition in Ha’aretz

Ha’aretz is Israel’s elite newspaper. With Israel’s second election day of 2019 coming up in about a month, Ha’aretz published in its latest weekend magazine an article by Hilo Glaser offering readers several reform ideas for the political system. Sortition got top billing. I was interviewed for the article. Below is a translation of some excerpts (original in Hebrew, paywalled).

The method: Sortition (i.e., lottery instead of elections)

The idea: Advocates of sortition note that modern democracy embraces ideas originating from Ancient Greece, but it disposes of the government mechanism that enabled their application. In ancient democracy public offices were appointed by lottery among the entire citizenry. This is how officials, clerics, and even government ministers were appointed.

In 2014, Prof. Irad Malkin published an article in Ha’aretz in which he explained that “the lottery was the most effective tool against the oligarchy of money and government, drawing the citizens into the political activity and allowing them to take part at different levels: in the sovereign assembly, in the high council, and in the courts. This worked well for 200 years.”

Not only historians are calling to revive the lottery mechanism. Yoram Gat, a software engineer and a statistics Ph.D., has recently published an article challenging the mechanism of elections in view of the public frustration with elected institutions and offering sortition as an alternative. He claims that allotment of political office holders will result in optimal representation of the different groups in the population.
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Irregularities in the selection process of the Irish Citizen Assembly

This is over a year old, but is relevant to the recent discussions here of allotment procedures.

Seven people who took part in the last Citizens’ Assembly weren’t recruited properly
Feb 21st 2018

A TOTAL OF seven people who took part in the last meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly were improperly recruited and shouldn’t have been there. The Citizens’ Assembly confirmed that seven of the 99 citizens present at a meeting on 13 and 14 January had been recruited improperly by Red C Research and Marketing.

In statements from both the Citizens’ Assembly and Red C, the fault was placed on one specific Red C recruiter. Both bodies said that after an extensive internal audit it was determined that the issue was isolated to January’s Assembly meeting and that past meetings were not affected.
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The United States chapter of Sortition Foundation

Owen Shaffer writes:

The Sortition Foundation has a United States Chapter that started up earlier this year. We hold online meetings that may be of interest to you. The group includes some folks you would recognize and has a healthy group of people that are new to sortition.

If you would like to join us, email me at dshaffer@lander.edu and I will send you the link to join the meeting. The announcement follows.

You can also join a group email for announcements at http://lists.sortitionfoundation.org/subscribe/usa and a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/420337885380259 as well.

Owen Shaffer, Convenor

The next online meeting of the US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation will, as before, be held twice. You can join either one of the almost identical sessions.

Sunday 4 August: 4pm Eastern, 3 Central, 2 Mountain, 1pm Pacific

Tuesday 6 August: 9pm Eastern, 8 Central, 7 Mountain, 6pm Pacific

We are trying something new: a guest speaker. The idea is a short presentation followed by discussion. This time I will present some original research that I have recently completed; it is described at the bottom. A future guest could look at, for example, citizens’ assemblies in America. We will discuss the guest speaker concept during the meeting.

We will also get a status report from each of our Groups, talk more about how we can support each other and, in short, enjoy one of those times when we get to talk with sortive folks!

Owen

Guest Speaker: Owen Shaffer. Topic: Representative Representatives?

Does Congress look like the rest of America? I have charts that show how different they are, including ethnicity, wealth, age, religion, previous job and education– over 30 data points. Several have not been published before, and most have not been compared to the general population before. Obviously this leads into sortition. How can this data be used to strengthen our movement?

Rennix and Nimni: Alternatives to judges

In the June 2018 issue of Current Affairs magazine, Brianna Rennix and Oren Nimni discuss the horrors of the judicial branch of the Western system of government, where professional judges each rule their “tiny fiefdoms and everyone who enters must cater to their whims”.

[A] lot of seemingly “impartial” legal standards—like the famous “what would a reasonable person do” standard—are inherently subjective, so that it’s hard to say what an “impartial” application would even mean. The law is full of attempts to determine what “reasonable” behavior would be in a particular situation. It should shock no one (except lawyers) that people often have wildly divergent views of what “reasonableness” means in any given situation. For courts, the “reasonable person” standard has a disturbing tendency to align with whatever best suits the positions of those in power. Think of all of the police officers whose shootings of unarmed black people have been deemed “reasonable”—and then say you want a judicial system run by “reasonable” or “impartial” judges.

At the end, they consider some alternatives. The first among their “more radical solutions to the judge problem” is “no more judges”:

But how can you have a legal system without judges, you say? Well, in Ancient Athens (immediate chorus of boos) no, hear me out (boos continue) look, I am not proposing ancient Athens as a civilizational ideal, I am just exploring an alternative institutional design (boos increase in volume) IN ANCIENT ATHENS, judges were essentially administrative functionaries, with no real decision-making power. Cases were decided entirely by enormous juries of 201-501 people, who were assigned to cases by random lottery and received a small fee for their services. A simple majority vote, without deliberation, determined the verdict. In the words of legal historian Adriaan Lanni, “the Athenians made a conscious decision to reject the rule of law in most cases, and they did so because they thought giving juries unlimited discretion to reach verdicts based on the particular circumstances of each case was the most just way to resolve disputes.”

Sortition Foundation’s selection & stratification services: how do they compare to the standards?

There was some discussion on Equality-by-Lot recently about developing allotment standards for sortition-based decision making bodies. Among other issues, the question of stratification got some attention. It turns out that Sortition Foundation, which is engaged in such activities, has a document (PDF) describing their procedure. It could be interesting and useful to compare the procedure laid out in the document with proposals for standards which were discussed. I invite readers to do so in the comments below or by contributing a post.

Schulson and Bagg: Sortition needs to become part of mainstream U.S. political discourse

Michael Schulson is a journalist who has written before about sortition. Schulson and Samuel Bagg, a democratic theorist at McGill University, have a new article about sortition in Dissent magazine. Here are some excerpts.

Give Political Power to Ordinary People

To fight elite capture of the state, it’s time to consider sortition, or the assignment of political power through lotteries.

Our broken campaign finance system is a longstanding target of progressive ire. And as Republican state legislatures have made increasingly aggressive moves to entrench minority rule, many people are beginning to see a broader defense of democratic integrity as a crucial part of any left agenda. Yet most of the attention of reformers has been limited to the electoral process—perhaps because we tend to assume that getting “our people” into office will solve the problem.

It won’t. Elite capture of the state extends far beyond the influence of large donors on elections.
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Sortition in the New Yorker

Another step in the thousand mile march: Sortition is positively featured in the second paragraph of Masha Gessen’s article in the New Yorker. The oligarchical nature of elections is rather matter-of-factedly asserted:

The concept of democracy rests on the premise that any citizen is a potential member of government. The ancient Athenian choice of sortition—the selection of government by lottery—was based on the understanding that elections would inevitably favor the aristocracy, and in a democracy the government should be a mirror of the governed. The American system has proved the Athenians right. Access to our electoral system is determined by the candidates’ ability to attract financial contributions. The contest itself is rigged in favor of the white, the highly educated, and the privileged—those who reproduce the class, race, and style of their predecessors.