Sortition in the press

Some recent media items mentioning sortition:

Verena Friederike Hasel, Politico, May 16:

Germany’s democracy problem: History has made Germans reluctant to let the mob decide.

BERLIN — Germany, like many places in Europe, is badly in need of democratic rejuvenation.

But where other countries are experimenting with bringing voices from the street into the political process, Germany’s dark history casts a shadow on efforts to break down barriers to political participation.

There’s no question Germany would benefit from listening to its citizens and engaging in some talk therapy. […]

In ancient Greece, that cradle of democracy, citizens’ assemblies consisted of 500 people who were elected by lot. After serving for a year, they were replaced by others. Lately, with democracy in crisis, the Greek model has served as an inspiration for modern-day democracies. Ireland, for example, set up a citizens’ assembly in 2016. […]

The Germans have been more reluctant to tinker with their political system. But on a Saturday morning in late February, 44 people gathered in Frankfurt. The choice of venue had symbolic value. Frankfurt, nowadays known as the country’s financial hub, was home to the first freely elected German parliament in 1848. This time around, people gathered for an event called Demokratiekonvent. It’s the brainchild of Dominik Herold, a 27-year-old politics major who wanted to take a cue from Ireland, knowing full well that “Germany still has a long way to go.”
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An Australian local community co-op allots board members

The Kyneton and District Town Square Co-op is an organization that was formed in order to manage a piece of land for community use. It has announced that three of the co-op’s board members will be allotted. (It seems that there are 4 additional board members who were elected.) The process is handled by a Sydney-based consultancy named ‘Deliberately Engaging’.

Van Reybrouck: Belgium’s democratic experiment

David Van Reybrouck has a piece in politico.eu about the new sortition-based bodies in Belgium.

Those looking for a solution to the wave of anger and distrust sweeping Western democracies should have a look at an experiment in European democracy taking place in a small region in eastern Belgium.

Starting in September, the parliament representing the German-speaking region of Belgium will hand some of its powers to a citizens’ assembly drafted by lot. It’ll be the first time a political institution creates a permanent structure to involve citizens in political decision making.
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Invitation and call for posters: International conference Direct Democracy v. Populism, Geneva, 17-18 May 2019

On Friday and Saturday, May 17th-18th, 2019, the university of Geneva will hold a conference on the theme of “Direct Democracy v. Populism”.

On Friday evening there will be a public meeting in French, while an academic conference in English will be held on Saturday. The program: PDF.

Registration for the workshop is free but places are limited for catering purposes. If you would like to register please contact, before 2 May 2019, alexander.geisler@unige.ch.

Call for Posters: You currently work (or have worked or are planning to work…) on a project on direct democracy, democratic theory, democratic innovations, sortition or populism? Send us your
poster proposal by 15 April. Accepted authors will be notified by 17 April. Submissions and further information: nenad.stojanovic@unige.ch.

Hind and Mills: A citizen jury visits the secret castle

Dan Hind and Tom Mills write in openDemocracy:

Entering the secret castle: A small step towards democratic public media?

Last week the BBC gave a representative audience panel control of its Brexit output for one day. Could this ‘citizens juries’ type approach begin to transform our media?

It didn’t receive much attention, but last week the BBC tried something interesting. For one day, Friday 1st March, its Brexit-related output was overseen by a representative audience panel that would, as the BBC put it, ‘control’ coverage ‘across a range of BBC News outlets’. The initiative, branded Brexit: Your Stories, was intended, the BBC said, to reflect ‘how Britain really feels about Brexit’. Kamal Ahmed, the editorial director of BBC News, was quoted as saying:

Not only will it be a very different and thought-provoking way of reporting the news that day, but it will help inform how we shape our news coverage in the future. We want our news rooms across the UK to be less a set of secret castles where, to the public, mysterious things happen. We want to open up the process and this first day is just the start.

Does this unusual step from the BBC signal a genuine interest in organisational change? Will it be a first step in democratising its output, as the statement put it? Or was Friday’s experiment more an exercise in PR?

Time will tell. But the rather narrow focus suggests a significant motivation was to help the BBC navigate the choppy waters of Brexit reporting, which has presented enormous challenges for the broadcaster.

[…]

Sortition in Madrid

An article about the political activity of Pablo Soto in Madrid is mostly devoted to a popular initiative mechanism, but the last few paragraphs deal with an allotted body:

This month Madrid plans to launch Mr Soto’s most far-reaching reform yet – an “observatory” of 57 citizens selected at random to advise the city’s 57 councillors.

Mr Soto explains that an algorithm will ensure that observatory members will be representative of Madrid’s social diversity, with a one-year mandate and access to expert assistance to reach well-informed decisions.
Image caption A selection of the citizens’ proposals (translated from Spanish) featured on the platform in early January

The concept was inspired by the ancient Athenian practice of choosing citizens to form governing committees, and by more recent examples where governments have asked the people to decide on single issues to break political deadlock.

In Australia, a “citizens’ jury” was asked about the construction of a nuclear dump.

“The idea is as old as democracy itself,” he says. “A group of people chosen at random – if they have the time and capacity to study the issues in depth – can take very representative decisions.”

The Gilets Jaunes: what are the prospects for sortition?

An article in RTL by Laure-Hélène de Vriendt and AFP (original in French, Dec. 29, 2018):

Gilets Jaunes marching in Montmartre

Perspective: Some among the Gilets Jaunes propose using citizen participation via sortition in order to create a list for the European elections.

To be used in “the great debate” by the government, proposed by some “gilets jaunes” for the European elections, citizen participation via sortition is riding high, despite some limits emphasized by researchers.

Its detractors fear a “talk-shop where legitimacy is only up to chance”, undermining the foundations of elections. Its supporters praise “the equality of chance to participate in the debate” which sortition makes possible, a specialist in democratic systems working at the Paris VIII university.

In any case, the method has the support of the government: within the framework of “the great debate”, to be held in January and February as a response to the Gilets Jaunes movement, meetings of a hundred allotted citizens in each region will be held in order to give their opinion on the grievances mounting everywhere in France.

“The idea is to make sure that the Frenchpeople who are not necessarily those most involved in public life and public conversation can give their ideas about the debate and the proposals”, explained PM Édouard Philippe last week in Haute-Vienne.

“A much more diverse representation”
For prof. Loïc Blondiaux, a specialist in those matters in Paris I university, “it is a response to the crisis of representation”. Sortition “guarantees a much more diverse representation” because “if we look at the social makeup of Parliament, there are very few workers and wage earners, as opposed to the Gilets Jaunes and to the future assembly members of the “great debate”, emphasizes the researcher. “The representatives will not speak instead of the citizens but as citizens, it is a different voice”, he asserts.

Until now, civic participation via sortition never went above the local level in France. After an experiment during the summer with a national debate for the 5-year energy plan, it “reaches for the first time the national level, with the demand coming from below”, emphasizes Yves Sintomer.

Although citizens councils and participative budgeting using sorititon already exist in municipalities, he observes, “the only institutionalization of sortition at the national level is in trial juries”, going back to the revolution.
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