Independent Candidate Hugh McTavish for Governor of Minnesota puts “Jury Democracy” #1 on his political platform

Hugh McTavish is running as an independent for the governor of Minnesota. McTavish’s primary policy position is

Jury Democracy. Have statistically valid juries of 500+ randomly selected citizens make all important decisions of government after hearing full debate and information from all sides on a single issue or proposal.

McTavish elaborates:

What would be the characteristics of an ideal government?  It would produce decisions in this way:

  • Decisions made by every citizen, not just by a single dictator or president and not just by a small number of representatives or the elites of society.
  • Decisions made with full information and after careful consideration of all evidence and arguments and with respectful, open-minded discussion about the decision among the decision makers; not made based on snap emotion or limited and biased information.
  • Decisions made by consensus where possible and not be 51% imposing their will on 49%.

Obviously, our current system falls short of these goals.  But that is necessary, right?  We do not have time for everyone in society to stop their lives to carefully consider all the evidence on every issue that our government has to decide.

Does it have to be this way? Can we achieve a better government?

Yes, we can. The way is a new idea I developed that I call Jury Democracy.

Jury Democracy is a system of government of having large juries (about 500 to 2,000 persons) of randomly selected citizens, where the juries constitute statistically valid samples of the citizenry or voters, make policy decisions for government after seeing full informed debate on the policy, being given full information for and against the policy, and fully deliberating and discussing the decision with equally informed citizens in the same jury.

McTavish is running as an independent and faces an uphill battle. Incumbent Governor Tim Walz has a commanding 18-point lead over his Republican challenger Scott Jensen 51% to 33%. However, I welcome any campaign that can promote the idea of democracy by lottery.

Booij: Sortition as the Solution

Below is the Introduction to a Master’s thesis by G.J. Booij, submitted in 2021 at the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences of Tilburg University, the Netherlands, titled “Sortition as the Solution: How randomly sampled citizen assemblies can complement the Dutch democracy”. Booij was advised by Prof. Michael Vlerick, author of the 2020 paper “Towards Global Cooperation: The Case for a Deliberative Global Citizens’ Assembly”.

During World War II, Winston Churchill famously stated that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”. Not only does this indicate that, at least in Churchill’s eyes, the current governmental form is flawed, but also that, remarkably, Churchill sees democracy as being synonymous to the elective representative democracy that was present during his life. If this kind of democracy would indeed be the best way to govern a nation, it is logical that many countries have stuck with it. However, if it is actually flawed, as he also claims, it may be wise to investigate alternative forms of government.

In this thesis, I will do just this by investigating alternative (democratic) governmental systems, since democracy is in fact not synonymous to the elective representative democracy that is still present in many Western countries. In particular, I will scrutinize the democratic system of sortition (democracy through citizen assemblies drawn by lot) and I will argue that this system should be used as a complement to the system currently in play in the Netherlands. By doing this, I will build on existing literature regarding sortition (Fishkin, 2011; van Reybrouck, 2016) by presenting a comparative perspective of several (democratic) systems, focusing specifically on the Dutch context. This kind of critical evaluation of the governmental status quo and democratic renewal is now more important than ever, since political trust dropped drastically over the past years – 70% of the Dutch population has indicated they do not have faith in politics (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2021; NOS, 2021a).
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Ovdaya: Towards Platform Democracy

Aviv Ovadya works in the area of governance of social networks. Some months ago while he was Technology and Public Purpose fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center he published a paper advocating applying sortition for constituting governance bodies for social networks.

Towards Platform Democracy: Policymaking Beyond Corporate CEOs and Partisan Pressure

Aviv Ovadya, Oct. 18, 2021

Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms make incredibly impactful decisions about the speech of billions. Right now, those decisions are primarily in the hands of corporate CEO’s—and heavily influenced by pressure from partisan and authoritarian governments aiming to entrench their own power.

We propose an alternative: platform democracy. In the past decade, a new suite of democratic processes have been shown to be surprisingly effective at navigating challenging and controversial issues, from nuclear power policy in South Korea to abortion in Ireland. These processes have been tested around the world, overcome the pitfalls of elections and referendums, and can work at platform scale. They enable the creation of independent ‘people’s mandates’ for platform policies—something invaluable for the impacted populations, the governments which are constitutionally unable to act on speech, and even the platforms themselves.

A terrible admission of weakness

Lenny Ferretti, a law student at the University of Mons in Belgium, writes the following in the Carte Blanche section of Le Vif:

In Belgium there are elections every five years. There are directly elected assemblies and others, which are elected indirectly. The Senate, which is the second chamber of the Federal Parliament has been elected indirectly since the Sixth Reform of 2014. Today, some tell us that it is useless and that it should be eliminated and replaced by allotted citizens.

First, it is good to recall that the Senate creates bicameralism, that Belgium is a federal state (article 1 of the Constitution), and that no federal state in the world is unicameral.

Sortition is profoundly anti-democratic and would require training for the relevant citizens which would imply additional costs… On the other hand, citizen panels can and should be convened. Their work can guide our elected officials, but we must distinguish consultation from decision-making itself. It is a question of representativity and of legitimacy and hence of democracy.

Such an idea constitutes a terrible admission of weakness on the side of the political system and particularly on the side of the members of parliament. It implies shifting the responsibility onto the citizens of what they should be expecting, and what they have the right to expect: effectiveness, and thus the creation of a decent and secure life, to the extent possible, for their children. If we have elected officials, it is so that they assume the responsibilities that we have vested in them through elections by all!

It is not by proposing original and/or complex ideas such as those described here that the political system is going to bring the citizen back in and produce the expected results. The political system must assume its responsibilities, and address the fact that the nation spirit has been eroding within the political class.

Sortition for worker-owned firms: a conversation with Simon Pek

The video above is a recording of a conversation I recently had with Simon Pek.

Simon is a professor at the University of Victoria, Canada. He has recently published a paper called “Drawing out democracy: The role of sortition in preventing and overcoming organizational degeneration in worker-owned firms” in the Journal of Management Inquiry. In the conversation we discuss this article, the notion of “organizational degeneration” which is central to the paper, as well as how and why Simon became interested in sortition, and related matters.

A sortition proposal in Malaysia

Datuk Yong Soo Heong writes in the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times:

[M]any in the political gamesmanship seem to be brimming with confidence on how to bring that winning formula for themselves and their hangers-on. I’m not so sure what they’ve in mind in terms of wealth-creation for the people because I’ve not heard much about this except that they want to return to power.

Therefore, we often find ourselves in a dilemma.

Who do we vote for? Who could be trusted? Which politicians will not abandon their righteous cause? These are tough questions to answer.
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UK government as seen by UK citizens

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in the UK has some new data about the opinions of the UK citizens about their government. The findings, showing low levels of satisfaction and trust in the system, are not surprising, but useful in giving some details and in showing that no significant change in the general negative sentiment has taken place.

Contrary to the supposed polarization, there exist a wide consensus regarding the oligarchical nature of the system. UK citizens across the political spectrum see the voters as having little influence compared to party donors, business, media and lobbyists. There is also a widespread agreement that politicians “do not understand the lives” of typical people and that “democracy in Britain does not serve [their] interests”.

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Expectations of commitment by the allotted, part 2/2

Part 1 is here.

The alternative

The alternative to the path of low commitment, with all its inevitable implications that undermine the democratic potential of sortition, is to expect, indeed, to demand, high level of commitment by the allotted to the political process. In short, political decision making should be seen, both by society and by the allotted, as a full time job. It should be a well compensated, intellectually demanding undertaking. The following attributes should be part of the design of any high powered allotted chamber, such as an allotted parliament:

  1. Service terms should be measured in years – say four years.
  2. Personal initiative and collaboration with other members of the allotted body would be expected. Unless special circumstances exist, frequent physical presence at the workplace would be expected.
  3. The activity of the members would be overseen by an allotted body, with which the members would be expected to cooperate. The oversight body would produce reports about the activities of the members. In cases of clear dysfunction the oversight body could sanction members. The body would refer cases of suspected malfeasance to the courts.
  4. The details associated with the design and the work processes of the allotted chamber, as well as budgets and member salaries, would be determined, and adjusted on an ongoing basis, by the chamber itself or by a different long-term allotted chamber such as the oversight body.
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Expectations of commitment by the allotted, part 1

In many discussions and proposals involving allotted bodies it is either implicitly or explicitly assumed that the allotted cannot be expected to invest much effort in their involvement in the political procedure. Then, a whole set design decisions regarding allotted bodies are justified as a consequence of this assumption:

  • Service terms must be short (measured in days, usually),
  • The allotted cannot be expected to gather information independently, to come up with their own agenda, or to design the procedures of their work,
  • The allotted cannot be expected to move to a different location in order to regularly physically attend meetings, so remote meetings are often offered as a substitute.

Even with all these burden-lightening design choices, it is often assumed that only a small minority of those offered allotted seats in a decision making body would take up the offer, so, it is again assumed, either service has to be mandatory or selection of replacements in one way or another has to take place.

All of these design decisions are dramatically detrimental to the effectiveness of sortition as democratic mechanism of decision making. The burden-lightening measures reduce the capacity of the allotted, as individuals and as a group, to make decisions that are independent, considered and informed. They all, in fact, transfer significant decision making power to the hands elite groups that manage the set-up.
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Pek: Sortition as the remedy for organizational degeneration in worker-owned firms

It is undebatable that in Western societies private firms are oligarchical institutions in which power is concentrated in the hands of the few. It is therefore not surprising that it is frequently argued that a major front in the struggle for democratization of Western society is the workplace. It is further argued that the democratic alternative to private firms are worker-owned firms. Such an argument, however, usually focuses solely on the formal issue of “ownership” and ignores the inherent oligarchizing tendencies of large organizations. A paper by Simon Pek in the Journal of Management Inquiry tackles the latter, crucial issue.

Drawing Out Democracy: The Role of Sortition in Preventing and Overcoming Organizational Degeneration in Worker-Owned Firms

Simon Pek


Fostering sustainable worker ownership and control of their organizations has long been an aspiration for many. Yet, the growth of worker-owned firms (WOFs) is often accompanied by organizational degeneration: the tendency for a small oligarchy of unrepresentative workers to control democratic structures at the expense of the participation of everyday workers. Prior research suggests that organizational degeneration occurs naturally as WOFs become larger and more complex. Building on and departing from this work, I argue in this essay that an important cause is likely to be current practice around how worker representatives are selected—specifically, the near-universal reliance on elections. As an alternative, I argue that the application of sortition—the use of lotteries—to select worker representatives in major decision-making bodies such as boards of directors and councils could help prevent and overcome organizational degeneration, while also offering additional social and business benefits for workers and their organizations.