Newly elected Congressperson: Public office must be earned

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a newly elected US Congressperson from NY who is considered somewhat of an anti-establishment progressive having unseated a long-serving Congressperson in the Democratic primary. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, she seems to be very much in favor of the standard notion of a competitive struggle for power. She recently made the following comment (a-propos the power of the party machine):

That broken mentality, that public office is something you wait in line for, instead of earning through hard organizing, is exactly what voters want to change.

“Waiting in line for public office” is largely what a sortition-based system is about.

Instead of the Popular Initiative, let’s try the democracy of chance

François de Closets writes in l’Opinion.

The Gilets Jaunes, the coalition, the opposition, everybody seems to support the Popular Initiative (référendum d’initiative citoyenne, or RIC). This mechanism for popular participation would offer both a renovating reform of our republic and a way out of the crisis. Wouldn’t it, however, be a false solution? Wouldn’t it be embraced more because it is in the air rather than through thorough reflection? Wouldn’t it be masking a real solution? “Let the people speak”, who can object to that? No one, and it is for this reason that we must not give in to moral terrorism.

Popular sovereignty, the foundation of democracy, struggles with the question of the government. Beyond the scale of the city, even beyond that of a village, collective power is no longer operative. Representative democracy must be utilized. Every nation has arrived at this conclusion. That is, popular sovereignty does not mean governing but appointing and recognizing rulers. It also means that the citizens see themselves as being represented by those who speak and act in their name.

Despite this delegation, the people remain the ultimate source of truth, their word being superior to that of their representatives. In particular, their word must be imposed through referendum when it comes to the supreme law: the constitution. Representative democracy is therefore a compromise due to the impossibility of the ideal of direct democracy.

A crutch. In practice the system risks the formation of an enclosed political class which usurps power from the people. Conversely, direct democracy can be used by manipulators who under the pretext of “letting the people speak” impose their point of view on the majority. Real democracy, that of the general will, is therefore a historical construction which must fend off both of those perversions. The RIC should be examined from this perspective.
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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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The Guardian view on Brexit: the government has failed – it’s time to go back to the people

According to the lead editorial in today’s Guardian:

We urgently need innovative ways to resolve the referendum vote. Setting up a citizens’ assembly is the first step to break the impasse . . . Britain should pause the article 50 process and put Brexit on hold. Parliament should explicitly reject no-deal. MPs should then open up the debate to the country: first, by establishing a citizens’ assembly to examine the options and issues that face the nation; and second, by giving parliament the right, if it so chooses, to put these alternatives in a referendum this year or next.

It’s worth pointing out that this approach involves a mixture of sortive, elective and plebiscitary elements.

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.

Le Figaro: Allotted French-people to participate in the national debate

Le Figaro (Dec. 21st, 2018) [original in French]:

“The Yellow Vests”: Allotted French-people to particpate in the national debate

The government wishes to have French-people selected via sortition participate in each region in meetings organized in the framework of the great debate promised as a response to the “Yellow Vests” crisis, announced [French PM] Edouard Philippe today. On the eve of a sixth Sunday of mobilization in France, the government and the coalition are hoping that emergency measures being adopted and the promise of this great debate will allow to diffuse the crisis.

“We believe that it would be wise to proceed with the appointment, the selection, the meetings which, in each one of the regions, could bring together about 100 French citizens chosen by lot, at random, which will discuss the result of this debate and participate in some way in this debate”, said the Prime Minister during a visit to Haute-Vienne.

“The idea is to have within those group some French-people which are not necessarily those most involved in public life, in the public debate, being able to give their opinions in the debate and to give their opinions regarding the proposals”, he added.