Ostfeld: The Case for Sortition in America

Jacob Ostfeld makes a radical, uncompromising argument for sortition in the Harvard Political Review. Some excerpts:

The political realities of 2020 have laid bare that these flaws are structural to American democracy itself and have existed since its founding. Our system is not broken; it is functioning exactly as was intended. The system was always built around undemocratic institutions. The Electoral College, which allowed President Trump to be elected despite losing the popular vote, was created to protect the interests of slaveholding aristocrats in the South. Members of Congress are able to sustain decades-long careers in Congress despite consistently low approval ratings because of millions of dollars in lawful donations from Wall Street firms — donations which were made legal in the first place by a 5-4 decision from the nine lifetime-appointed justices on the Supreme Court. None of the undemocratic systems governing us today are subversions of the Constitution. On the contrary, they are all perfectly legal.

How, then, do we save American democracy? Sortition.

In simplest terms, sortition means appointment by lottery. In America, sortition would mean replacing Congress with assemblies made up of randomly chosen American citizens; elected representatives are entirely eliminated. Almost every responsibility of the legislative branch is delegated to a randomly subset of the population. Laws are written, discussed, and passed by ordinary people. Federal judges are interviewed and confirmed by ordinary people.

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The French Citizen Climate Convention: a provisional analysis

It has been about 5 months since the French Citizen Climate Convention has published its proposals, and with acrimony setting in about the de-facto shelving of much of its work, various conclusions are being drawn about the CCC process. As usual, the conclusions almost invariably confirm the existing notions of the analyst. My analysis is no different in this sense: it seems to me that to a large extent each party to the process has played its expected role and thus the outcomes are quite predictable. I will highlight however two points that have been established empirically that should not have been taken for granted regarding how things would turn out.

Here are points about the CCC process that in my opinion are worth noting:

1. The process was launched as a government response to the Gilets Jaunes, a mass movement whose agenda was not just anti-government but also anti-electoralist. A popular initiative process (Referendum d’initiative citoyenne, or RIC) and to a lesser extent sortition were a major part of the discourse of the Gilets Jaunes. The rise of the Gilets Jaunes movement was triggered by what the government presented as environmentalist policy – increasing the gas tax. Thus having a non-electoralist process for generating environmental policy proposals was a direct capitulation to GJ demands. This origin of the body as a direct, stop-gap response to mass protest is very different from the origins of other allotted bodies, such as the Irish constitutional conventions. Such bodies, even if they were in some way a response to public disaffection with the status quo, were constituted in a much more carefully controlled manner by established power.
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Partitioned Sortition: Ensuring Proportional Representation despite Random Selection

This post was withdrawn at the request of the author. You can still read the post on the author’s blog.

Sicard: Replacing representative democracy with participative democracy is dangerous, Part 2/2

This is the second and final part of a translation of an article by Claude Sicard published in July 2020 in Le Figaro. The first part is here.

In order to put an end to the Gilets Jaunes revolt, Macron embarked in January 2019 upon what he called the “Great National Conversation”. This has consisted of organizing huge meetings in city halls with the participation of mayors and the local elected politicians, and urging the population to share their comments in person in during the meetings or through an online platform. Macron himself made many animated appearances in these meetings all over the country, which usually lasted more than four hours. Macron would take off his jacket and respond to all the questions addressed to him. Meetings took place in more than 10,000 municipalities, and 1.9 million comments were made. The “Great Conversation” was concluded with a press conference on April 25th, 2019. On that occasion Macron said: “I wished to meet you in order to draw the main lessons from the Great National Conversation and to propose to the nation directions for a new way that our citizens are looking for, a new way for our republic”. He has described the Great Conversation as “an unprecedented exercise for contemporary democracies”. This was therefore a mass popular consultation whose goal was to orient the actions of public institutions over the coming years.

That was followed by a second step. Following the coronavirus crisis, on May 25th, the “Health Conference at Ségur”. The crisis required great dedication from health professionals in order to make up for grave weaknesses of our public hospital system. It was therefore necessary to take their many demands into account without any further delay. Macron saw himself as forced to try to address as well as possible those demands, having been the first praise the exceptional dedication of the health personnel during the crisis, going as far as calling the first responders “national heros”. Macron initiated another great consultation, this time among 300 principal actor in the health sector. This was a second exercise, then, in participative democracy. The goal of this consultation was particularly ambitious. The prime minister defined it as follows in his opening speach: “To construct together the future of the hospital, to heal a system that was blocked and impoverished, and build a new health system organization in each territory”. The participants were given an incredibly short period for reforming our public health system: a month and a half at the most.
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Reporterre: The members of the Citizen Climate Convention rebel against Macron, Part 3/3

This is the third and last part of a translation of an article published by Reporterre following the aftermath of the French Citizen Climate Convention. Part 1, Part 2.

The situation mystifies the citizens. “We were sent to the front because government has to take responsibility”, says Willaim Aucant. “For us it is out of the question to re-debate our measures. We simply want to explain to those measures to all the actors”, he explains. The task is not simple. “France in its totality” is much more discordant than the allotted “France in miniature”.

“We are getting to a time when the citizens are going to come to reassert themselves”

“The government’s strategy is very clever”, observes Yolande Bouin. “While the cameras are trained on 150 regular folks, the executive short-circuits government bodies and civil society. We find ourselves the only ones speaking on the issue and the environmental organizations are completely marginalized. It’s absurd! We would like to have the doors of the ministries open to the activists, they know much better than us about the climate!” She regrets “the lack of countervailing powers and of oversight to monitor the actions of the executive”. The balance of powers is tilted. “The government dominates the discussion”, she emphasizes. In the media, the comments of the ministers are picked up more often than those of the citizens. The voices of the Convention’s guarantors, Cyril Dion and Laurence Tubiana, who are increasingly critical of the government, and of political supporters, like Matthieu Orphelin and Éric Piolle, do not get heard either.

“We are tired”, admits Grégoire Fraty, former president of the Association of the 150. “This experience, enriching as it is, has lasted for over a year. We all have jobs, family lives, it is complicated to find times in the evenings and the weekends for meetings and lectures”, he says. “It’s good to be in the midst of it, but at the end of the month that’s not what puts food on our tables.”

The citizens have not official standing, no legal existence. This weakness has already been observed by several legal experts such as Arnaud Gossement. “It is necessary to create a legal status for engaged citizens”, says Grégoire Fraty. As of now the citizens remain waiting. “For the moment, we do not boycott and do not throw a fit, but we would like to see things said clearly, truthfully and plainly”, he says.
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Reporterre: The members of the Citizen Climate Convention rebel against Macron, Part 1

An article in Reporterre, original in French.

The members of the Citizen Climate Convention rebel against Macron
November 2, 2020
Gaspard d’Allens

Anger mounts among the members of the Citizen Climate Convention. Left to “face the lobbies” all by themselves, disappointed that many of their proposals have been thrown out or unraveled, some lose their energy, others do battle.

Promises oblige only those who believe them. The same is true for Emmanuel Macron’s commitments. It seems so long ago that the President has talked, with great gusto, in the gardens of the Élysée about the climate crisis and the adoption “without filtering” of 146 out of the 149 measures of the Citizen Climate Convention. “I want to have all your proposals implemented as soon as possible. Let’s go! Let’s act!”, he exclaimed to the sustained applause of the citizens, reburnishing, on the cheap, his environmental credentials.

Four months later, however, the ground covered is limited and motion has nearly stopped. Discussion of the bill handling the proposals of the CCC was postponed to next year instead of being discussed this fall. The idea of a constitutional referendum has disappeared and many proposals were dismissed or watered down. Time is passing and opportunities are lost. The stimulus plan and the financing bill could in fact have included the Convention’s measures but they did not.
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Voting is a Community Right

In an election day post, I discuss how traditional voting and sortition can be viewed as aspects of the same right. Unifying both is the need to reverse the burden of action: while voting requires citizens to decide to vote, sortition requires proper authorities to find participants. Instead, voting in democracies now should require electoral authorities to obtain a valid vote from everyone who is eligible. At that point, calling random juries and assemblies will be a breeze.

Belgiorno-Nettis: There’s a problem with elections

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, the founder and director of the newDemocracy​ Foundation, takes the opportunity of US elections day to propose sortition to the readers of The Sydney Morning Herald. Belgiorno-Nettis recounts Australia’s historical record of electoralist innovation.

Australia led the world in democratic innovations throughout the 19th century, beginning with the secret ballot, the first independent electoral commission, and then compulsory and preferential voting. […] New Zealand is often heralded as pioneering the vote for women, but it was Australia that also enabled women to stand for office – 20 years ahead of the Kiwis. The American political scientist Louise Overacker wrote in 1952: “No modern democracy has shown greater readiness to experiment than Australia.”

He then offers the adoption of sortition as continuing this trend:

[W]e need to go further. In 2017 the former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said: “We need to make our democracies more inclusive. This requires bold and innovative reforms to bring the young, the poor and minorities into the political system. An interesting idea would be to reintroduce the ancient Greek practice of selecting parliaments by lot instead of election. In other words, parliamentarians would no longer be nominated by political parties, but chosen at random for a limited term, in the way many jury systems work. This would prevent the formation of self-serving and self-perpetuating political classes disconnected from their electorates.”
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Claude Sicard: Replacing representative democracy with participative democracy is dangerous, Part 1

A translation of an article from Le Figaro.

Replacing representative democracy with participative democracy is dangerous
Claude Sicard, economist and international consultant
July 6, 2020

Seeing his popularity ratings decline, Emmanuel Macron appeals to the French people for a reform. For this economist, the head of state’s seemingly bright idea is a mistake because making decisions concerning the future of a country requires thorough study and the assistance of experts.

Macron at the Citizen Convention for the Climate at the Élysée, June 29, 2020.

The distance in our country between civil society and the institutions never stops increasing. In every democratic system it is the law that the majority prevails: the dominant fraction imposes its will on the minority, and the electoral moment is decisive for the duration of the mandate of the elected representatives. These principles are increasingly questioned these days. Minorities are increasingly unwilling not to be heard, and moreover they too often observe that the elected do not always have the virtues which they claimed to have during the campaign. Pierre Rosanvallon, a noted researcher of democracy, tells us that we are seeing in our modern democracies the rise of the “people as a judge”. The “monitoring citizen”, he says, is replacing the “voting citizen”. In this way a tendency has developed in our modern societies toward the creation of “counter-democracies”.

CEVIPOF surveys confirm this claim: 70% of the French think that in our country democracy “does not function very well”, and assert that they have no confidence in the ability of members of parliament to address issues that the country is facing. The American political scientist Yascha Mounk, a Harvard professor, writes in his book The People vs. Democracy published in 2018 that “in North America and in Western Europe, a growing number of citizens are turning their backs on democracy: they are feeling that they have less and less influence over political decisions”.
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Yamaguchi: Lottocracy: Considerations on Representative Democracy by Lot

Akito Yamaguchi is a second-year doctoral student at the University of Tokyo, Japan, specializing in political philosophy, especially lottocracy. This is the author’s summary of a paper by Yamaguchi published in the Japanese Journal of Political Thought (May 2020).

Lottocracy: Considerations on Representative Democracy by Lot

This paper aims to examine the relevance of “lottocracy” as a lawmaking system. Lottocracy is the idea of a representative system in which representatives in the legislature are appointed by lottery rather than by election. This paper compares lottocracy and electoral democracy in terms of instrumental value, i.e., the value of the outcomes of these procedures. It assesses the value of both systems in terms of the interests of the people: how well do the systems promote the interests of the people?

To assess the instrumental value of the electoral and lottocratic systems, I use two methods. First, I use two criteria to assess the interests of the people: the criterion of equal reflection and the criterion of competence. The criterion of equal reflection is a criterion for assessing the extent to which the system equally reflects the will of the people. The criterion of competence is a criterion to assess for assessing how competent a legislator is in terms of lawmaking.

Second, I assess the electoral and lottocratic systems in both an ideal condition and a non-ideal condition. In the ideal condition, I assess each system in the condition in which it functions best. In the non-ideal condition, I assess each system in the real world in which we live.

Section 1 assesses both systems in the ideal condition. In the ideal condition, the electoral system is superior to the lottocratic system. This is because representatives who are superior to others are elected in the electoral system and so the electoral system is higher in terms of the criterion of competence. Continue reading