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.

The DNC to allot primary debate slots

The Democratic party has announced its planned schedule for primary debates for the 2020 presidential race. To handle the possibility of there being many candidates, the DNC plans, if necessary, to split the field into two groups, and having those groups debate in two consecutive nights. The split will be at random:

If necessary, depending on the number of candidates who meet the threshold, the DNC is prepared to split the first two debates in June and July into consecutive nights, said DNC Chairman Tom Perez. If that happens, the lineup will be determined by random selection, which will take place publicly.

“It’s conceivable that we have a double-digit field,” Perez told reporters on a conference call. “That is why we are planning for that contingency.”

Pacific Standard magazine gives some background and analysis:
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More sortition in the Guardian

In October, the Guardian published an excerpt from Tim Dunlop’s sortition-advocating book “The Future of Everything”. Today, James Bridle offers the readers of the Guardian to apply sortition to the Brexit issue. (Of course, he is not the first with this idea.)

How can we break the Brexit deadlock? Ask ancient Athens
James Bridle

Citizens’ assemblies have their roots in sortition – selecting citizens at random to fill public posts – which was once central to democracy

In the central marketplace of ancient Athens, around 350BC, there stood a machine called the kleroterion. This was a six-foot-high slab of stone that had a series of slots on the front, and a long tube bored down from the top to the base. Those up for selection for the various offices of state would insert metal ID tags, called pinakia, into the slots, and a functionary would pour a bucket of coloured balls, suitably shaken, into the top of the tube. The order in which the balls emerged would determine who took which role, some for the day, some for a year.