Citizen assemblies in Bristol

Adam Postans and Matty Edwards report in The Bristol Cable (January 15, 2020):

Experiment in democracy, as council to pilot citizens’ assemblies

Bristolians could be gathered to make decisions on issues such as the climate crisis.

One of the biggest shake-ups in years in how decisions are taken on the major issues in Bristol has been approved with the introduction of citizens’ assemblies.

It came as the city council’s ruling Labour group threw its weight behind the Green Party’s idea, with backing from the Lib Dems.

But the Tories voted against it amid fears it would become “consultation on steroids” and add an unnecessary new layer of bureaucracy when, they say, the power of the mayor should instead be returned to councillors.
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Residents will be chosen at random, like jury service for the assemblies and be paid to spend time hearing from experts on complex issues, including the climate emergency, before making decisions which could be binding on Bristol City Council.

Labour said it “radically strengthened” the Greens’ motion by assigning between £5million and £10million from the council’s capital budget to the “deliberative democracy” proposals, including giving communities more power over spending decisions in their areas.

But Tory group leader Cllr Mark Weston said: “We are going to end up with consultation on steroids. You will have opinions expressed from the centre of the city, all having the same view, and suburbs won’t have their say.”

Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections translated to Japanese

Prof. Seiki Okazaki of Kyushu University, Japan, wrote to draw attention to the publication of a translation of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections to Japanese. It seems the book has generated significant interest in Japan. Prof. Okazaki attributes the positive reception to some extent to the fact that sortition-based judicial institutions have been part of the Japanese system for a decade.

The Japanese translation of David Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections (Tegen Verkiezingen) appeared in April 2019 […] Three of the four national newspapers published a book review: the Yomiuri Shimbun on May 19, the Asahi Shimbun on June 1, and the Nikkei on August 10. Many regional newspapers printed a book review transmitted by Kyodo News. Other newspapers and magazines also reviewed the book favourably. Supported by these reviews, the book was reprinted as early as September 2019.

2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the the lay judge trial system and of the mandatory prosecution through citizen review of non-charge decisions. These are both reforms related to the criminal justice system in Japan enhancing the participation of citizens using sortition in a procedure that was until then exclusive territory of professionals. As the Supreme Court noted, the lay judge system has become well accepted and acquired legitimacy in Japanese society. Japanese citizens have become familiar with sortition in the judicial system and realize how this enhances quality and democracy in the courts. This is probably one of the reasons that Japanese citizens are interested in the central arguments developed in Against Elections and why sortition was not immediately rejected a proposal unfeasible for Japanese society.

However, the most important factor for the book’s success is the wide and deep distrust of party politics. Opinion polls show that about 40 percent of Japanese voters support no political party.

OKAZAKI Seiki, one of the translators of Against Elections, proposed to replace the elected House of Councillors with the sorted House of Citizens. He suggests that the sorted House can exercise veto power over the decisions of the elected House (Okazaki Seiki, “Election and Sortition,” Kenpo-kenkyu (Review of Constitutional Law), No. 5, November 2019, pp. 87-96. Written in Japanese).

Sortition in tribal democracy

Alpa Shah writes in the Hindustan Times:

The electoral process is said to be the cornerstone of the world’s biggest democracy. But it has also often been about maintaining or gaining power, status, and money as a means to exert elite control over the political process. Perhaps, it is not surprising then that across India, one finds that those involved in electoral politics are also seen by ordinary people as doing “rajneeti”, an impure and immoral world of corruption, illicit activity and ruthlessness.

As a long-term researcher of Jharkhand, I find that discussions about democracy in India have been reduced to mere elections. But there is an alternative form of democracy that was central to some of Jharkhand’s tribal communities. And it may contain the seeds of a transformative global process of democracy that allows ordinary people the power to rule the world. It is democracy by sortition — the use of random selection to choose those who govern us.

I first saw it in December 2000, less than a month after Jharkhand became a separate state, in the Munda tribe village, where I was staying as a social anthropologist. They were selecting their new pahan and paenbharra, who presided over secular and sacred village matters, for three years.
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Electoral redistricting by an allotted citizens commission in Michigan

The Monroe News from Michigan reports:

Applicants sought for Michigan redistricting panel

The Secretary of State’s office recently sent 250,000 randomly selected Michigan voters applications to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The 13-member commission will be responsible for drawing the boundaries for the state’s Senate and House of Representatives districts. It also will design the districts for the congressional delegation.

The commission is being formed as a result of the passage of Proposal 2 in November 2018. The ballot measure amended the state constitution to grant the authority to an independent citizen commission, taking the power away from the state’s governor and the Legislature.

Proposal 2 passed statewide 2,522,355- 1,593,556.

The commission will be composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five voters who do not identify with either party. Districts are redrawn every 10 years in response to the U. S. Census, which will be conducted this year.

Per the proposal, the secretary of state’s office is required to mail out the applications to at least 10,000 randomly selected voters. Troy-based Rehmann LLC handled the selection process.

Residents within the state who weren’t part of the random mailing also may apply for the commission.

The framing wars: Have the elites gone off on frolics of their own unsupported by the community?

Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Language like this shows us how fundamental framing has become to political combat. Political debate isn’t just ‘dumbed down’ or simplified. There’s a geography to the ground on which it’s fought and those with an eye to victory head for the high ground.

There’s much talk these days about the divide between political elites and ‘ordinary folk’. It’s tearing western democracies apart. I think that the elite lack respect for the hoi polloi and their view of the world. Hence my frequent reference to the ancient Greek political principle of isegoria or equality of speech.1

In Sam Roggeveen’s response to my review of his essay Our Very Own Brexit (which I recommend by the way), he isn’t the first to argue that I do my cause no favours by “aligning it so closely with causes that our political elites would endorse (e.g. welcoming of immigrants and refugees; against Brexit)”.2 This is definitely sound political advice if one ventures among the red meat folk at Quillette.

But for the record, while I think Brexit makes lousy economic policy and statecraft, I wouldn’t just respect the will of the British people if they chose the course they are embarked upon with open eyes. I’d be awestruck with admiration. I’d think it was a fantastic development in which people decided that there were more important things than money and power to live for. But I don’t think any of that. I think they’ve been sold on a particular framing of the story in which the EU is an elite project gone mad, and so something which is coming after their nationhood and something on which they can heap their rage.

Roggeveen’s response goes on:

The problem I identified in the book is that the party-political class in Western democracies has become a separate caste with few connections to a social or economic base; Brexit shows what happens when the policy preferences shared by that caste runs too far ahead of the public.

I’ll call this the ‘frolic’ school of analysis. The elites have just kept doing what elites do – pursuing various hubristic agendas until the inevitable Wile E. Coyote moment comes and they realise that they have, in their zeal, arrived at a place where there’s no ground underneath them. Now it has to be admitted that the EU has major flaws. It seemed to me that its treatment of Greece was and continues to be a disgrace, and even if you disagree with that – as Paul Frijters does – the whole Euro project was ill-conceived and devastating.  Continue reading

2019 review – sortition-related events

As I have done at every end-of-year of the last 9, I am offering my summary of notable sortition-related events that occurred over the last year.

As polls indicate that people continue to believe that governments do not represent them, the idea of the single-issue citizens’ assembly made strides in various European countries in 2019. In France, the Citizens’ Climate Convention is taking place, where 150 allotted people are tasked with selecting ways to address the climate crisis. This body is relatively high profile and received attention by various writers. A similar body is being demanded in the UK by the Extinction Rebellion movement.

Scotland had a citizens’ assembly for “shaping Scotland’s future”.

Participations journal devoted a special issue to sortition. 24 papers dealt with various aspects of the topic. The book Legislature by Lot, with the papers from a workshop by the same name was also published.

A citizens’ assembly on Brexit was widely discussed in the UK.

A permanent allotted body was instituted by the German speaking community in Belgium and by City Hall in Madrid.

The increasing use of allotted citizen bodies resulted in increasing scrutiny of the ways in which they are constituted and run, as well as their institutional role.

Blok: Sortition and democracy: equality, justice and the challenge of present-day democracy

Prof. Josine Blok, a classicist from the University of Utrecht, will be giving a talk titled “Sortition and democracy: equality, justice and the challenge of present-day democracy” at the University of Dresden on Feb 5th, 2020.

It turns out that Blok has been interested in sortition for some time. In 2014 she has published a paper called “Participatory Governance: The Case for Allotment” in the journal Participation. The paper is viewable and downloadable here.

In the paper, Blok hypothesizes that sortition was legitimated in Athens by the custom of using the lottery to allocate shares of inheritances among the heirs. Other parts of her discussion are interesting and original as well.