Citizen Climate Convention: Become a Democratic Assembly!

An open letter to the members of the French Citizen Climate Convention from several mass-action environmental organizations was recently published in Reporterre – a French environmental daily newspaper. [Original in French.]

A Citizen Climate Convention has been convening since October 4 over the course of 6 sessions of three days each until the upcoming January. How to make sure this unprecedented test of collective democracy, which gives 150 allotted citizens the power to deliberate measures for reducing France’s CO2 emissions by at least 40% in 10 years, does not end up as a tool of self-promotion for a government whose real policy for the last two years has been so blatantly anti-environmental that it forces Nicolas Hulot, its very moderate minister of the environment, to resign? That is possible if the allotted rely on their popular legitimacy in order to change the nature and the objective of their upcoming deliberations. It is for this democratic usurpation that we are calling.

What is it that makes you legitimate, more legitimate in any case than the committee that is supposed to “govern” you? It is not that fact that you were allotted according to social-professional or geographic “representivity” criteria defined by the polling institute. This representativity has no democratic value. The fact that an allotted woman is a self-employed resident of Brittany like me does not in any way guarantee that she would faithfully represent my political convictions. It is therefore not the allotment according to social-professional categories which makes you close to your fellow citizens, but rather the fact that you share their situation of democratic dispossession. In these dying days of this deceptive regime of “representative democracy”, we are all reduced to being nothing more than private individuals, deprived of any meaningful political power.
Continue reading

Kovner: The Jurga System

A post by Alex Kovner.

In The Jurga System, I outline a complete democracy centered around citizen juries. At its core is a sharp division of democratic policy making into proposing and deciding. While this is conceptually simple, it is surprisingly difficult in practice. Doing so requires liberal use of the “blind break” to ensure that proposers cannot corrupt the decision process, and vice-versa. The book looks at this dynamic in great detail as it applies to all branches of government.

While the scheme outlined here will not be implemented anytime soon, it is a good thought experiment regarding what a complete political system based on citizen panels might look like. It also suggests a different direction from what we see today: instead of open-ended citizen assemblies tasked with generating grandiose proposals, we should prioritize citizen juries with narrower mandates but binding authority to act. Only this way will sortition become a regular, indispensable feature of democracy.

Full text available to download: https://alexkovner.com/2019/11/12/the-jurga-system/.

Stella Creasy MP: why a citizens’ assembly should sort out Brexit

A British MP proposes a Brexit citizen’s assembly, a discussion follows. (A February 2019 BBC TV show.)

Let Juries Choose Public Officials

In my view, and as I have argued in published form since the late 1990s, two basic and complementary reforms are needed in order to bring modern societies into accord with democracy. One is to transfer the power to decide laws to juries (a.k.a. minipublics), and the other is to transfer the power to choose a wide range of public officials to juries (a.k.a. minipublics). My latest article in Dissident Voice (October 23, 2019) focuses on the latter part of that reform, choosing public officials by jury.

We have been taught since childhood that popular election is essential for democracy. In reality, although it is much better than, for example, a military junta, it is a very problematic way to choose public officials and is 100% not necessary for democracy.

The US political system would be far better and far more democratic if all the public officials now chosen by popular election were instead chosen by juries randomly sampled from the people.

Another very important set of public officials that could be chosen by juries are the independent and supposedly independent public officials now chosen by politicians. Continue reading

Sortition in France – discussion and application

Discussion and application of sortition continue to be very active in the Francophone world. Here are some recent examples:

Guyancourt: “Décidons ensemble” [“Let’s decide together”] are forming their list of candidates for the municipal elections by knocking on door number 20 in each street.

From the Popular initiative to sortition: the responses to the crisis of representation – a discussion with Yves Sintomer, Dimitri Courant, and Clément Mabi.

Random interactions in the Chamber: How allocating legislators’ seats at random affects their behavior.

Allotting candidates for the Paris municipal elections.

An allotted citizen council in Sion, Switzerland will publish positions on the propositions on the Swiss ballot.

Criteria for a representative citizens’ assembly

Given the high profile of some recent (UK) proposals for allotted citizens’ assemblies — including Conservative leadership candidate Rory Stewart’s Brexit assembly and Extinction Rebellion’s global warming assembly — there is an urgent need to initiate an informed conversation on the requisite criteria to ensure that the assembly design is compatible with principles of democratic legitimacy. As we have been debating this topic in depth on this forum for many years, this looks like a good place to start. The underlying assumption of this post is that the legitimising principle is ‘stochation’ — i.e. an assembly that is a portrait in miniature of the population that it seeks to ‘describe’ and that the goal is to increase the fidelity of the representation, subject to cost and other practical constraints. I would suggest the following criteria:

Criteria for the acceptability of the allotment procedure
The criteria for an impartial random-selection algorithm have been covered by Yoram Gat’s recent post. Terry Bouricius has also argued that the need to be seen to be fair might require some sort of public ceremony, as in pre-modern applications of sortition.

Selection pool
Should the same criteria of citizenship be used as for the electoral role, or is there a case to open it to all affected interests? However the Athenians were less inclusive, requiring a higher age for lawmakers than regular citizens along with swearing the heliastic oath.

Voluntary or quasi-mandatory participation?
Athenian legislative juries were drawn from a pool of volunteers, but the 6,000 citizens were a very substantial proportion of the citizen body and there was strong normative pressure for all citizens to serve (those who didn’t were ho idiōtēs).  However the modern take-up of sortition invitations has been in the region of only 4%, so it might well be argued that voluntary participation would generate an atypical sample. If so, should participation be a civic duty (as in jury service) or will incentives and support suffice, bearing in mind that the relevant principle is the representation of the beliefs and preferences of the vast majority of citizens who are not included in the allotment?

Size of the allotted sample
Modern examples of sortition have been for bodies ranging from only twenty to several hundred, and some statisticians have argued that 1,000 is the minimum size for a reasonably accurate representation (Athenian juries ranged from 501 to 5,001). What is the connection between sample size, decision threshold and confidence interval? How big could the sample be before the onset of rational ignorance?

Length of service
On the one hand a citizens’ assembly would need time to gain adequate knowledge on the issue under consideration, whereas on the other there is the danger of participants ‘going native’ and thereby ceasing to adequately reflect the beliefs and preferences of their (virtual) constituents. Should assemblies be convened on an ad hoc basis (as with 4th century Athenian lawmaking), or is there a case for permanent bodies with rolling tenure for members?
Continue reading

Schulson and Bagg: Sortition needs to become part of mainstream U.S. political discourse

Michael Schulson is a journalist who has written before about sortition. Schulson and Samuel Bagg, a democratic theorist at McGill University, have a new article about sortition in Dissent magazine. Here are some excerpts.

Give Political Power to Ordinary People

To fight elite capture of the state, it’s time to consider sortition, or the assignment of political power through lotteries.

Our broken campaign finance system is a longstanding target of progressive ire. And as Republican state legislatures have made increasingly aggressive moves to entrench minority rule, many people are beginning to see a broader defense of democratic integrity as a crucial part of any left agenda. Yet most of the attention of reformers has been limited to the electoral process—perhaps because we tend to assume that getting “our people” into office will solve the problem.

It won’t. Elite capture of the state extends far beyond the influence of large donors on elections.
Continue reading