DemocracyNext

Update: demnext.org now has a video of the launch event. There is also a link to an article by Hélène Landemore and Claudia Chwalisz offering sortition as an alternative to the way that the failed Chilean constitutional proposal was generated (and a tweet-thread with a summary in English.)

DemocracyNext is a new organization featuring a “Who’s Who” of the sortition circles. DemocracyNext‘s press release announcing its launch is here. Some excerpts:

DemocracyNext, a new non-profit, non-partisan research and action institute, which announces its foundation this International Democracy Day, 15 September 2022 – aims to actively help this new democratic paradigm take shape and take hold.

“We believe that another democratic future is possible. We want to design and build new institutions where citizens can hold real decision making power,” said Claudia Chwalisz, chief executive of DemocracyNext. “Our point of departure is that the current electoral system is broken beyond repair. An entirely new framework must be based on full participation, citizen representation by lot, and real deliberation.”
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Nathan Jack: Let’s end elections

Nathan Jack, an attorney in Salt Lake City, is a sortition advocate blogging at democracyplus.substack.com. He has recently written the following article in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Time to replace elections with Democracy+

Picking our leaders at random would be better than hard-fought elections.

Congress is broken. With few legislative accomplishments, we shouldn’t be surprised at its abysmal 16% approval rating. But with midterms approaching, all five Utah incumbents up for election won their primary. And all five are projected to keep their seats.

In states and districts across the country, incumbents easily win reelection. Despite our dissatisfaction with Congress, nothing changes.

This problem lacks an easy solution. Many look to term limits. Sen. Mike Lee himself has long advocated for senators to serve two six-year terms (although he seems unwilling to apply that rule to himself). Others look to campaign finance reform, as fundraising is one of the biggest advantages that incumbents gain. But these measures only treat the symptoms. We need to rid our government of the disease.

The disease? Elections.
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Petaluma (California) Assembly Update

The Petaluma Citizens’ Assembly (CA) concluded its deliberations into the contentious city fairgrounds issue last week and presented its recommendations to the Petaluma City Council and to the 4th District Agricultural Association (the state board currently administering the fair). The board’s 50 year lease to run the fairgrounds property ends in 2023 and the Council and the Board could not agree on new terms going forward. The 55 acre parcel is owned by the city.

The assembly panelists met for over 80 hours over several weekends, hearing from experts and stakeholders, and engaging in a facilitated deliberative process moderated by Healthy Democracy. They were tasked by the city to answer the question: “How might we use the city’s fairground property to create the experiences, activities, resources, and places that our community needs and desires now and for the foreseeable future?”

The CA’s report, written entirely by the panelists, delineated the values, options, and visions that the panel had identified for the fairgrounds, and is accessible on the Healthy Democracy website. The panel process reflected the promise of deliberative democracy—to stand apart from traditional back room, political horse trading and instead focus on evidence and collaborative problem solving that places the community at the center.

The principal effect of the assembly’s work may not be apparent for several months, when the city has to decide on a course of action. The assembly’s effect won’t be measured by how creative, startling, or beautiful the eventual solution is. It will be measured by whether or not the city and the state board can come to an amicable resolution that permits them to move beyond their current deadlock. It’s already clear to the city council and the state board that the panelists are modeling a novel, structured, “yes, and” rather than “yes, but” process to solving problems, an approach outside usual political paradigms involving debate, power, conflict, and authority.

Moreover the assembly table incorporates a richness of lived experience unavailable in elected or appointed bodies, enabling panelists to think deeply about the complexity of the city and its issues. Will this example catalyze the governmental bodies to set aside politics and find common ground founded in the collective wisdom of everyday people from all walks who listen to each other?

Based on the example of past assemblies, we may hope. Stay tuned.

Luebwick: How democratic is democratic innovation?

Patrick Luebwick, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Antwerp and Visiting Professor at the University of Ghent, critiques sortition in general and more specifically what may be called “the citizen assembly process”, i.e., the way allotted bodies are being employed nowadays within the existing power structure. Some excerpts are below. [The text seems to be an automatic translation of an original text in French(?) and contains some dubious phrases, which I tried to correct.]

Betting on direct civil democracy is not an innocent game

Belgium jumps on the bandwagon of democratic renewal. The elected representatives of the people increasingly seem to desire direct assistance through the insights and advice of ordinary citizens. There is a project under way in the German-speaking community where commissions drawn up by lot can provide input to Parliament. The federal government has just completed an online citizen survey inviting us to share ideas about the future of Belgium. The Vivaldi government itself also has a bill ready to allow bodies in which citizens selected by lot can engage in dialogue with each other, politicians, experts and civil society to formulate policy recommendations for state reform.

Various arguments are used to support these types of initiatives. Politicians present it as a good sign to increase political participation and citizen participation. Civic democracy as a means of bridging the gap with citizens and promoting democracy. Proponents often assume that citizen paintings drawn by lottery can speed up and improve political decision-making.

[However, the use of sortition relies on the idea that i]f we inform citizens adequately and allow them to reasonably discuss with each other, we can track down the will of the people. This assumption is problematic. First, the outcomes of the allotted body may reflect what citizens see after deliberation about a particular political topic. But the rest of the population may not be convinced. The use of citizens’ committees thus runs counter to the idea that democracy is a form of self-government. After all, the well-thought-out judgments made by allotted citizens do not match what the what the population thinks or wants. Democracy as autonomy is not served by a participatory shortcut that is taken over the heads of the majority of citizens. Rather, the strength of deliberative democracy lies in the attempt to involve the whole of society in political opinion and decision-making, particularly through open debate in the public sphere and through diverse civil society and civil society.
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Citizen Assembly for Food Policy in Switzerland

In June Switzerland is going to convene a Citizen Assembly for Food Policy (Assemblée citoyenne pour une politique alimentaire). [Texts quoted below are my translations from the original French. -YG]

With the Strategy for Sustainable Development, the Federal Council has declared its commitment to a fundamental change toward a more sustainable food system in Switzerland. In order to set out strategies for this change, national dialogs have already taken place in 2021. The Citizen Assembly for Food Policy is a continuation of these dialogs with the direct involvement of the Swiss population.

Some details about the process:

The Citizen Assembly for Food Policy convenes 100 allotted Swiss residents who will discuss in an open-forum process what a sustainable food policy in Switzerland in 2030 could look like.

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Expectations of commitment by the allotted, part 2/2

Part 1 is here.

The alternative

The alternative to the path of low commitment, with all its inevitable implications that undermine the democratic potential of sortition, is to expect, indeed, to demand, high level of commitment by the allotted to the political process. In short, political decision making should be seen, both by society and by the allotted, as a full time job. It should be a well compensated, intellectually demanding undertaking. The following attributes should be part of the design of any high powered allotted chamber, such as an allotted parliament:

  1. Service terms should be measured in years – say four years.
  2. Personal initiative and collaboration with other members of the allotted body would be expected. Unless special circumstances exist, frequent physical presence at the workplace would be expected.
  3. The activity of the members would be overseen by an allotted body, with which the members would be expected to cooperate. The oversight body would produce reports about the activities of the members. In cases of clear dysfunction the oversight body could sanction members. The body would refer cases of suspected malfeasance to the courts.
  4. The details associated with the design and the work processes of the allotted chamber, as well as budgets and member salaries, would be determined, and adjusted on an ongoing basis, by the chamber itself or by a different long-term allotted chamber such as the oversight body.
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First Municipal Citizens Assembly in California

The northern California city of Petaluma (pop. 60,000) recently budgeted $450,000 for a Citizens’ Assembly chosen by lot to recommend a plan for the future use of its municipal fairground–a contentious issue that had been plaguing the city for several years. The Petaluma CA is the first municipal citizens assembly in California. The plan passed the city council unanimously.

The panel runs from mid-May to mid-July 2022, will deliberate over 90 hours, and is tasked with providing three policy reports on the question, “How might we use the City’s fairgrounds property to create the experiences, activities, resources, and places that our community needs and desires now and for the foreseeable future?”

The panelists will develop, write, and edit the reports themselves, and will deliver them to the Fair Board and City Council. The reports are advisory, though the council and board are expected to thoroughly consider and publicly respond to them.  

Healthy Democracy, best known for their work on the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, has been designated moderator for the CA. Their work involves design and implementation of the CA process, and facilitating deliberation.

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Another round in the Herefordshire citizen assembly controversy

A previous post mentioned a letter to the editor of the Hereford Times expressing objections and distrust of the process around the Herefordshire Citizens’ Climate Assembly and in particular asking what the cost of the process was.

Councillor David Hitchiner, Leader of Herefordshire Council, has now responded to the letter. Hitchiner reports that the total cost was £70,000, with Sortition Foundation receiving £8,456 plus VAT and Impact Consultancy and Research, receiving £30,000 (which, Hitchiner emphasizes, is a bargain).

The letter also asked Hitchiner whether he “subscribes to the view that our politics are in fact broken and, if so, what the council has been doing about it?”

Hitchiner answers:

Thankfully we live in a country with a democratic system. I do not consider that it is perfect.

Too few people do not [sic] exercise their democratic right to vote, and the elected are not even close to being a cross section of our society by age or socio-economic groupings.

For this reason consultation in decision making is especially important.

My hope is that more people in Herefordshire will respond to our consultations, and also decide to vote at the next election in response to the way in which this administration has gone about discharging the faith placed in us at the last election.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the commenters, both of them, are not impressed. One of them, letmehelp, writes:
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Small steps

Access to the chamber’s time for dealing with members’ bills is randomised.

Well this is a small step indeed, (perhaps intimated by the picture) but I thought readers might be interested in this little feature of New Zealand’s parliamentary arrangements.

It is usually the proviso of Christmas Day snacking or visits to your nan’s. But in New Zealand – a country with a penchant for on-the-fly problem-solving – the humble biscuit tin has become a mainstay of parliamentary democracy.

There, as in Britain, members’ bills are a chance for MPs to have laws that they have proposed debated in the house.

But unlike in Westminster, in Wellington those bills are represented by plastic bingo counters in a 30-year-old biscuit tin. A curled, yellowing paper label taped to the front helpfully proclaims: Members’ Bills.

New Zealand House Speaker Trevor Mallard bottle-feeds lawmaker Tamati Coffey’s baby while presiding over a debate in parliament

Each plastic counter represents a bill, and when there is space on parliament’s order paper for a fresh round of proposed laws, a member of the parliamentary service digs into the tin for a lucky dip.

“It was what was available at the time,” Trevor Mallard, the Speaker of New Zealand’s parliament said of the tin, adding that it had initially contained “a mixed selection of biscuits”.

The tin was introduced after parliamentary reforms in the 1980s that changed an earlier method for keeping track of members’ bills – a list – to a ballot draw.

A secure and inexpensive method for sortition

Our association (l’APRES) organizes discussions every Sunday either on the internet, in real life, or both. Every Monday, a week in advance, we randomly pick someone to choose the next discussion’s theme. We thus needed a cheap and secure way to carry out this weekly selection. This post demonstrates how this is done.

The first step consists in going to this website. On this page, you need to enter a “seed” number to produce the output. As a seed we use the CAC 40 value at the market opening of that day – Monday. This value is publicly available and easy to determine and verify. Importantly, the same seed produces the same output (i.e., the same selected person) but at the same time two very close by seeds produce different, wholly unrelated, outputs (see why here).

In the demonstration shown in the following images, I employ a few names of people from this blog.


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