First German National Citizens’ Assembly on DemoPart: the Rise of the “Alloted Citizen”

On September 28 in Leipzig, “Phase 2” of the first ever German citizens’ assembly “Bürgerrat Demokratie” concluded its second and last weekend of deliberation on whether and how to “complete or improve [ergänzen]” Germany’s representative democracy “with elements of direct democracy or citizen participation.” On November 15, a day dubbed “Tag für die Demokratie,” the 160 participants, together with 100s more from the “regional conferences” from Phase 1, will ceremoniously present their recommendations to the President of the Bundestag, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble. I was present in Leipzig on all four days of the assembly as observer along with a few researchers, journalists, and an evaluation team from Goethe University’s “Democracy Innovation” lab. A camera crew filmed the entire event, including the small group discussion at one of the tables. The documentary will be released sometime in 2020.

This was a civil society initiative prompted by the “Grand Coalition” [GroKo] agreement between the SPD and CDU/CSU. Article 13 (pg 136) of that agreement includes a promise to research (via an expert commission) the possibility that “our precious representative parliamentary democracy could be completed with elements of direct democracy or citizen participation.” Nearly two years later, that expert commission has still not even begun to materialize. Seizing the opportunity, a civil society initiative called Mehr Demokratie (more democracy) raised money and organized this even in “four phases” with the help of two institutes that run participatory fora for local and regional governments and organizations: Nexus and Ifok. Of high interest to “sortinistas” will be this brochure about “Losverfahren” (procedure by lot) also handed out to the participants last Saturday at the end of the assembly.
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New permanent sortition assembly in Belgium

Parliament of the Belgian German-speaking community

The parliament of the German-speaking Belgian community (Ostbelgien, 77.000 inhabitants) – which enjoys some political autonomy in the Belgian federal system – has officially and unanimously decided on February 25 to use sortition on a permanent basis, starting after the next elections in the fall.

Two different institutions will involve sortition. First, a permanent “Citizen council” (Bürgerrat) composed of 24 randomly selected citizens serving for 18 months. This council will have the mission to select topics and set the agenda, each year, for several “Citizen assemblies” (Bürgerversammlungen). These assemblies (maximum 3 per year) will be composed through sortition and age, gender and education quotas. The council will decide both their size (between 25 and 50 citizens) and the duration of their work (e.g. 3 weekends over 3 months).

These assemblies will produce recommendations to the German-speaking Parliament, the latter having the obligation to discuss the proposals (provided that they reach a 4/5 majority support in the citizen assembly) and to justify its decision to follow them or not.

Topics discussed in the citizen assemblies will usually concern the competencies of federated communities (culture, education, scientific research, development aid) but could exceptionally go beyond if the citizen council recommends it. Non-selected citizens can easily propose topics to the council, provided that they gather 100 signatures.

The selection method will be the following: First, a mail will be sent by the local parliament to a large number of randomly selected citizens. Second, a new public random selection will be made among those who responded positively, with quotas and a 17 years old threshold. Interestingly (compared to Ancient Athens), participation will be open to non-Belgian residents.
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Chouard: An allotted referendum chamber

Etienne Chouard, who has been the most vocal and consistent French advocate for sortition, is having somewhat of a day in the limelight in the context of the Gilets Jaunes protests. Chouard’s other major procedural proposal is the Popular initiative (in french: Referendum d’initiative citoyenne, often referred to as RIC).

A major issue with the popular initiative process, which is practiced in Switzerland and in various US states, is the ballot qualification process. In order to cut down the number of proposals on the ballot to a reasonable number, some hurdle has to be introduced. This hurdle is usually set as the collection of a large number of signatures. This makes qualification resource intensive and thus much easier for elite interests than for the average citizen.

In an interview (original in French), Chouard lays out an interesting alternative:

Chouard: “The RIC makes it possible for a group of people, or for a single person, to pose a question for the whole of the people. One of the first questions to ask ourselves is how many people can legitimately pose a question. In Italy, in Switzerland, it is 100,000, 500,000. It could be a million. It is for us to decide. […] I would say that a single person should be able to pose a question.”

Of course, the immediate consequence of this proposal, unlimited RIC without a minimal quota, is chaos. To handle this issue, the blogger proposes a “referendum chamber” whose members are allotted ordinary citizens, as in the Athenian democracy.

Also worth noting, and commending, the way Chouard affirms his democratic convictions in response to the standard question about the danger that his proposed system would produce bad policy:

I am a democrat. That means that I support the people deciding their destiny themselves and making the most important decisions themselves. At the same time if we are really democrats and honest, then we must expect that from time to time there would be issues, which can be important ones, about which the people would make decisions that would not be the ones we would make.

The full interview (almost an hour) is available as a video.

It’s the Economy, (not) stupid!

I’ve never met Paul Wyatt – who describes himself as a self-producing filmmaker and media consultant. I’ve admired his work from a distance though, both as an inspiration for my own efforts to transform myself into a multi-media journalist and also for the subject matter he’s currently focused on.

I’m highlighting his work to Equality by Lot readers as you may be able to help him – right now – to raise some money to promote the cause of random selection and deliberation as it relates to economic policy. The challenge he’s facing is directly relevant to EbL readers. You are people, I assume, who are intent on spreading awareness and best practice of sortition in its different forms.

If Paul gets the money, and completes his film, we’ll all have a tool to help us argue the case for citizens to get a stronger voice in directing economic policy.

That’s why I’m spending some of my time writing this blog post.

Paul is crowdfunding for the money to complete a film on the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council.

The RSA programme gave randomly selected British citizens a non-binding say on national economic policy, and influence over the future of the UK economy.

So far, so so, you demanding EbL readers would say. You’d be right, of course, the Council conclusions didn’t oblige any policy maker to do anything with those findings, regardless of how good they might have been. Not at all best practice in sortition land but not catastrophically bad either.

The RSA initiative has had some heavyweight endorsement from the likes of Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England. Who knows how far its recommendations will make it through the mechanisms of government and public policy? Perhaps its best legacy will be to move the debate and practices forward for others to then pick them up in turn.

Paul secured an RSA commission to document this event – something he did with skill and style in the short film shown below. You can access the kickstarter campaign via this link, and share it far and wide to your networks.
 

New “sortition around the globe” map

The Sortition Foundation has launched its new “sortition around the globe” map – we know there are many examples missing (those that we do know about will slowly be added). If you want to help just get in touch!sortition_around_the_globe_map

And a reminder about Sortition Foundation events happening in London this weekend:

  1. Sortition Foundation AGM, 8pm Saturday 10th March: contact us for details.
  2. Back to the Future for a Real Democracy” discussion at Conway Hall, 11am Sunday 11th March. Tickets now available.

Top ten best sortition videos

[This is a repost from http://www.bretthennig.com/ten_best_sortition_videos – it is meant to be provocative – and of course includes all my own videos! – suggestions for additions most welcome!]

Here’s my selection of the top ten best short videos that showcase sortition: what it’s about, how it could work, and why we should transform democracy and replace elections with stratified, random selection.

Of course I’m biased, but I have to get my own TEDx video out of the way first:

The TED-Ed video by Melissa Schwartzberg, What did democracy really mean in Athens? wins the view count award – it’s a great video as well!

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Where to for Frome’s politics?

It’s interesting to see that councillors in charge of local government in the English market town of Frome are mulling over sortition. They face a byelection one year before the end of the council’s current, four-year term. Peter Macfadyen* and his fellow members of Independents for Frome (IfF) will be defending their record as part of the campaign.

No surprises there, it’s what any political party has to do mid term, even if IfF members see themselves as a “non-party party“.  It does raise the intriguing point of manufactured conflict, though. Elections, as readers of Equality by lot know only too well, create divisions among competing candidates and their would-be voters.

Opposing candidates must somehow differentiate themselves from their opponents. That generally means over-blowing your own qualities while demeaning the opposition’s. Exchanges do little to illuminate or advance public understanding or people’s engagement in political issues.

Yes, yes, you know all that too.

The Frome election won’t change the balance of power on the council as IfF control all the other 16 seats. It will also cost money to stage and for candidates to contest.
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