Quatrevalet: Sham participatory democracy in the energy domain

The following essay, dated June 14, was published in the online publication Contrepoints, which is published by the Liberaux organization.

The essay was written by Michel Quatrevalet, who is described thus:

Holding a B.Sc. in electrical engineering, Michel Quatrevalet spent 25 years in various operational positions in the industry. Over the last twenty years he has held various management and expert positions in multinational companies and in professional organizations in the areas of the environment and energy.

Original in French, my translation, corrections welcome.

PPE: Sham participatory democracy in the energy domain

Ms. Jouanneau [sic, this probably refers to Chantal Jouanno, president of the CNDP, -YG] allotted 400 participants for a one day workshop on the multi-year energy plan (PPE). Have the conditions been met for this experiment in participatory democracy to work?

The debate around the PPE was “enriched” by an experiment in participatory democracy. Ms. Jouanneau allotted 400 participants for a one day workshop on the multi-year energy plan.

We don’t know much about the procedure, we don’t know the names of the 10 moderators, nor which documents were provided to the participants. During the written debates on the site of the Commision for Public Debate, several participants complained that some essential points of view were missing, such as the conclusions of the 2012 Percebois‑Grandil taskforce or the opinions of the Academy of Sciences and Technology.

The conclusions will be presented on June 29th, that is at the end of the consultation period, at which point it would be no longer possible to dispute them.

A sham process

Such activities of “allotted citizen panels” could be productive but only if three necessary conditions are met:

  • An in-depth preparation of the participants that would make them sufficiently knowledgeable on the subject (energy is a highly technical subject),
  • A detailed verification by an organization independent of the parties involved (including independence of the government) that the information provided is factual, complete and objective,
  • A transparent process of nomination of the moderators and of the drawing up of the synthesis of the debates.

In reality, none of these conditions seems to have been observed. We can even fear the worst, reading the shamelessly biased report of the project’s management. The comments posted on the site of the debate were not heeded. Here are a few of them.
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Students in Bolivia Prefer Sortition to Elections

Here’s the abstract for an interesting new article, “Democracy Transformed: Perceived Legitimacy of the Institutional Shift from Election to Random Selection of Representatives,” in Journal of Public Deliberation:

Authors:

Simon Pek, Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria

Jeffrey Kennedy, Faculty of Law, McGill University

Adam Cronkright, Democracy In Practice

Abstract

“While democracy remains a firmly-held ideal, the present state of electoral democracy is plagued by growing disaffection. As a result, both scholars and practitioners have shown considerable interest in the potential of random selection as a means of selecting political representatives. Despite its potential, deployment of this alternative is limited by concerns about its perceived legitimacy. Drawing on an inductive analysis of the replacement of elections with random selection in two student governments in Bolivia, we explore stakeholders’ perceptions of the legitimacy of random selection by investigating both their overall support for randomly selecting representatives as well as the views that inform this support. Overall, we find that random selection is indeed accepted as a legitimate means of selecting representatives, with stakeholders broadly preferring random selection and recommending its use in other schools—views which are informed by a critical assessment of random selection’s relative merits. Moreover, we find that perceptions may be affected by contextual factors that extend beyond individuals’ own values. Our findings thus contribute to work on random selection, its contextual embeddedness, and on the values underpinning democratic structures.”

Link to download the article: https://www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol14/iss1/art3/

 

Mavoix – French group uses sortition to select election candidates

[Note: this is a repost from the Sortition Foundation]

“Who’s representing me the best?”

A group of friends began the collective #MAVOIX (meaning “my voice”) in France in 2015 – they all believed that the current form of our representative democracy has failed us.

The idea was to bring together diverse citizens from different backgrounds to collaborate, discuss and work out how to “hack” the Assemblée Nationale by allowing everyday citizens to participate in the creation of every single law. After a first run at a local election in 2016, the goal was set to send several deputies (Members of Parliament) to Parliament after the June 2017 election. Once elected, these deputies would play a very special role. Instead of voting according to their own program or convictions, they would always vote according to the outcome of every citizen who had voted on an online platform: if, for example, 10 #MAVOIX deputies were in the Assembly, and the result from the online platform about a law was 40% YES, 30% NO and 30% ABSTENTION, then the #MAVOIX deputies would vote in the same proportions (in this case: 4 YES, 3 NO, 3 ABSTENTIONS).

To prepare for the national election campaign, the collective worked for two years without any leaders or charismatic personalities. Decisions were made horizontally, after in depth discussions, always trying to find a consensus. If people disagreed, they could “fork” (a software development term), which means both options were tested. Soon afterwards, taking into account the results of the experiment, people could decide which option(s) to drop and how to improve the one they kept. This forking process was at the heart of the experimental spirit of #MAVOIX: myriads of small actions, followed by sharing of what has been learnt. An online forum, local/national  meetings  and open-source software were the tools used to share know-how and to deliberate on any choices to be made.

And because every contributor was an expert in some area, they developed a peer-to-peer process of teaching and learning skills. For instance, students from the Political-Science University created a MOOC  to help everybody understand the actual duties and obligations of an MP (Member of Parliament) during his or her term in office. In these ways contributors could help and volunteer and bring  ideas to resonate with the campaign.
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Fintan O’Toole: If only Brexit had been run like Ireland’s referendum

Fintan O’Toole has a glowing account in the Guardian about Ireland’s constitutional referendum. It advertises the allotted chamber process as the antidote to what troubles the establishment with electoral politics.

As O’Toole’s sees things, the trouble with electoral politics is “tribalism and fake ‘facts’”. With some careful management, the public can come to see sense and vote accordingly.

In all the excitement of what happened in Ireland’s referendum on abortion, we should not lose sight of what did not happen. A vote on an emotive subject was not subverted. The tactics that have been so successful for the right and the far right in the UK, the US, Hungary and elsewhere did not work. A democracy navigated its way through some very rough terrain and came home not just alive but more alive than it was before. In the world we inhabit, these things are worth celebrating but also worth learning from. Political circumstances are never quite the same twice, but some of what happened and did not happen in Ireland surely contains more general lessons.

Morena has another round of sortition of congressional candidates

In 2015 the National Regeneration Movement (Spanish: Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA), a left-wing political party in Mexico, first selected some of its congressional candidates via allotment among activists.

It is now repeating this procedure.

Interestingly, while Morena was a relatively small party in 2015, winning about 8.5% of the votes and 47 seats out of 500 in the Chamber of Deputies, Morena is now very high profile, with its presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), being the early front-runner.

Lawrence Lessig on deliberative polls

In this interesting and entertaining August 2017 TED Talk, Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor, shows an appreciation for some of what is wrong with decision-making by popular vote in contemporary societies, and for some of the political significance of deliberative polls.

… the answer is not to reject democracy. The answer is to find a way for democracy to represent us better. To give up the idea that when we talk about “we” as in “we the people” we’re talking about what we happen to think now, and replace that idea with a conception of “we” where what we mean is what we think when we are informed and [have] deliberated.

He then indicates deliberative polls provide a “we the people” of the kind he describes, and discusses, in glowing terms, the 800 member deliberative poll in Mongolia on the constitution (at which he was an observer).  He does not (in this video) suggest any actual democratic reforms for the U.S.

Lille en comme’un

Could an anarchist organization run a city? The words seem to contradict each other: “anarchist”, “organization” and “run”. The anarchist movement generally presupposes a total absence of authority. But by anarchy I mean a much softer idea: the impermanence of a drawn authority. Municipalism and participatory lists partly implement this idea at the level of the city, and at the commune of Saillans a participatory list uses the drawing of lots on a regular basis. Along that same line of thought, I created this week a group whose name is “Lille en comme’un 2020” aiming to present a list in the next municipal elections of Lille. This name derives from “Barcelona en comu” and also comes from a discussion we had in a meeting of the Listes Participatives Paris. My objective: to participate in the genesis and success of such a list in Lille.


An image illustrating Lille en comme’un 2020. The shape of Lille and inside an enso.

Our meetings will have one thing in common, we will designate with a die the people who will moderate our meetings. One moderates by giving the floor to people who raise their hands, by controlling speaking time, but also by asking the quiet ones for their opinion. Before the appointment, we all agree on a maximum term of office – which can be as short as 20 minutes. Someone then casts a die and the n-th person to their left will moderate – n being the number on the die. At the end of his or her term or if the moderator resigns earlier, he or she rolls the die again to appoint a new moderator. So the power turns.

We have already tried this three times in the meetings of the Paris participative lists. And at our first meeting for Lille en Comme’un that took place last Friday. It worked well (we talked for 4 hours using this method) and this modus operandi makes it possible to avoid long speeches and capture of power in the meeting. This method is not perfect and I was able to observe that one problem at our last meeting in Paris was the absence of a secretary to write a report.

One possible solution that we could test in Lille is for the person who moderates to appoint a secretary at the beginning of his mandate. It is optional to change the person for this function after each moderator’s mandate so that stability and professionalism are brought to the meeting.

Thank you for reading! And I look forward to meeting you in person at Lille en comme’un 2020.

P.S: This post comes from my blog on sortition. Don’t hesitate to pay a visit!