Nathan Jack: Let’s end elections

Nathan Jack, an attorney in Salt Lake City, is a sortition advocate blogging at democracyplus.substack.com. He has recently written the following article in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Time to replace elections with Democracy+

Picking our leaders at random would be better than hard-fought elections.

Congress is broken. With few legislative accomplishments, we shouldn’t be surprised at its abysmal 16% approval rating. But with midterms approaching, all five Utah incumbents up for election won their primary. And all five are projected to keep their seats.

In states and districts across the country, incumbents easily win reelection. Despite our dissatisfaction with Congress, nothing changes.

This problem lacks an easy solution. Many look to term limits. Sen. Mike Lee himself has long advocated for senators to serve two six-year terms (although he seems unwilling to apply that rule to himself). Others look to campaign finance reform, as fundraising is one of the biggest advantages that incumbents gain. But these measures only treat the symptoms. We need to rid our government of the disease.

The disease? Elections.
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The call to abolish elected chambers all together began to spread like wildfire

Modern Ghana publishes a short futuristic piece by Brett Hennig (falsely mis-attributing it to other writers).

The End Of Politicians: Time For Real Democracy

It all started in the small countries of north-western Europe. The movement began way back in 2011-12 when one of them went without a government for almost 2 years. But it wasn’t until 2020 that the first regional parliament there instituted a second chamber of randomly selected citizens to review legislation. That made other governments around the world takes note. Then, after the global crisis of 2023-25 people hit the streets, leaders paid attention, and randomly selected, representative “citizens’ chambers” began to flourish. Canada replaced its Senate with a citizens’ chamber and, finally – after years of campaigning – the House of Lords in the UK was also replaced with a representative, randomly selected “House of the People”. It wasn’t long after that – when people began to realise that these assemblies work well and make good, fair, trusted decisions – that the call to abolish elected chambers all together began to spread like wildfire.

Then it happened. After the political crisis in north America in 2039 a couple of US states responded to the crisis by completely replacing their elected legislature with a citizens’ chamber. First it was Oregon, and then the big one: California. Now, in 2050, some countries have followed suit. Among the early adopters were Belgium and The Netherlands in Europe. Who would be next was hard to predict: The depth and breadth of the political movement depended crucially on the local conditions and historical context of each country. Yet the movement continues to grow: Slowly, politicians are becoming a thing of the past. They are now commonly seen as a bizarre historical artefact of that brief period in the 1900s, between the time when parliaments elected by universal suffrage became the norm across half the planet, and the 21st-century spread of the new sortition democracy based on universal, representative random selection.
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Meeting: Sunday, August 21, 2022 – International Network of Sortition Advocates

The International Network of Sortition Advocates will have our next meeting on, Sunday, August 21, 2022, at 19:00 GMT [20:00 Europe, 21:00 Israel, 14:00 EST (2:00 PM), 6:00 AED].

The meeting will be held on our Discord platform. You must register on the app to attend the meeting. If you’re interested in registering on on the Discord platform and attending the upcoming meeting contact: Rich Brown at rbrowncmt@yahoo.com.

*Please note our desire to keep the meetings to a maximum of 1-hour in length.

Urgency and hypocrisy

Content warning: This post contains messages that may be traumatizing to some audiences. Reader discretion is advised.

The attitude expressed, explicitly or implicitly, in much of the political discussion in the West, and in particular in academic discussion, is that the existing political system is essentially, at its core and in its principles, benign. While some room for improvement surely exists, we must not act rashly. The great danger that must be guarded against when considering any changes to our political system is that we might very well end up with fewer of the great benefits that the current system bestows upon us. “Us” in this usage is supposed to cover essentially all of society, rather than just the author and their select audience.

This attitude is deplorable. The situation of the world is dire. It is sometimes said that we are living in the best of times humanity has known thus far. This may or may not be true, but in any case it is irrelevant. Even if previous times were worse, the situation is appalling. The world is full of misery that can be relatively easily alleviated simply by having public policy which is aimed at such a goal, rather than public policy that is aimed at very different goals.

Outraged rhetoric about atrocities, real, exaggerated, or fabricated, of official enemies is prevalent in the West and so is hand-wringing about the misfortune, real, exaggerated or imagined, of inhabitants of non-Western countries. Yet, even ignoring misery inflicted by Western countries worldwide, misery is rampant in the West itself, misery that can be drastically reduced by appropriate political action.
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Petaluma (California) Assembly Update

The Petaluma Citizens’ Assembly (CA) concluded its deliberations into the contentious city fairgrounds issue last week and presented its recommendations to the Petaluma City Council and to the 4th District Agricultural Association (the state board currently administering the fair). The board’s 50 year lease to run the fairgrounds property ends in 2023 and the Council and the Board could not agree on new terms going forward. The 55 acre parcel is owned by the city.

The assembly panelists met for over 80 hours over several weekends, hearing from experts and stakeholders, and engaging in a facilitated deliberative process moderated by Healthy Democracy. They were tasked by the city to answer the question: “How might we use the city’s fairground property to create the experiences, activities, resources, and places that our community needs and desires now and for the foreseeable future?”

The CA’s report, written entirely by the panelists, delineated the values, options, and visions that the panel had identified for the fairgrounds, and is accessible on the Healthy Democracy website. The panel process reflected the promise of deliberative democracy—to stand apart from traditional back room, political horse trading and instead focus on evidence and collaborative problem solving that places the community at the center.

The principal effect of the assembly’s work may not be apparent for several months, when the city has to decide on a course of action. The assembly’s effect won’t be measured by how creative, startling, or beautiful the eventual solution is. It will be measured by whether or not the city and the state board can come to an amicable resolution that permits them to move beyond their current deadlock. It’s already clear to the city council and the state board that the panelists are modeling a novel, structured, “yes, and” rather than “yes, but” process to solving problems, an approach outside usual political paradigms involving debate, power, conflict, and authority.

Moreover the assembly table incorporates a richness of lived experience unavailable in elected or appointed bodies, enabling panelists to think deeply about the complexity of the city and its issues. Will this example catalyze the governmental bodies to set aside politics and find common ground founded in the collective wisdom of everyday people from all walks who listen to each other?

Based on the example of past assemblies, we may hope. Stay tuned.

Rangoni and Vandamme: Is deliberative democracy a hopeless ideal?

“Is deliberative democracy a hopeless ideal?” is the title of a recent books review by Sacha Rangoni and Piere-Étienne Vandamme on the Social Europe website. The review deals with three books discussing “deliberative democracy”:

  • Le tournant délibératif de la démocratie, Loïc Blondiaux and Bernard Manin (eds), Sciences Po, 2021,
  • Deliberative Democracy, Ian O’Flynn, Polity Press, 2021,
  • Deliberative Mini-Publics, Nicole Curato et al, Bristol University Press, 2021.

The books, to the extent the review reflects their contents, seem to largely cover well-trodden group. We again meet the standard “for” and “against” arguments regarding “deliberation” and allotted bodies. Those presented in the article are:

  • “[W]e should all exchange arguments before we reach the best collective decision, and that ideal lies at the heart of the deliberative conception of democracy.”
  • “[This is], some critics have argued, a hopeless ideal, founded on a naïve and unappealing understanding of politics, in which people do not have strong political convictions and would prefer consensual decisions over conflict.”
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Buge and Vandamme: The CCC as a case study on the legitimacy of sortition

A new paper by Eric Buge and Pierre-Étienne Vandamme, published in the Journal of Representative Democracy [Full text, PDF], has the following title and abstract:

Conflicts of Legitimacies in Representative Institutions: The Case of the French Citizen Convention for Climate

Conceived as an alternative form of democratic representation, the random selection of citizens for a political task comes in tension with the logic of electoral representation. The idea, carried by random selection, that anyone can be a good enough representative challenges the assumption that we need to choose the most competent among ourselves. And the fact that citizens’ assemblies are sometimes tasked to draft legislation may undermine the authority of elected representatives. This article tests this hypothesis of tension between competing forms of representation on a recent case: the French Citizen Convention for Climate (CCC) in 2020. Drawing on parliamentary hearings and questions as well as public political reactions to the CCC, we find indications that elected representatives may feel threatened in their legitimacy even when most randomly selected citizens do not see themselves as representatives. This may be due to the fact that the CCC was seen by some as stepping on the prerogatives of the Parliament. This suggests that future experiments of the sort could benefit from a clearer functional division between the two forms of representation.

This repeats a commonly asserted notion that sortition rests on different positive assumptions about political competence from those upon which support for elections does. Supposedly, while sortition advocates assert equal political competence among all citizens, advocates of elections assert that the elite is politically more competent than the rest of the population. In fact, analysis shows that the claim that this is the crucial difference between the positions is rather questionable. Continue reading

Luebwick: How democratic is democratic innovation?

Patrick Luebwick, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Antwerp and Visiting Professor at the University of Ghent, critiques sortition in general and more specifically what may be called “the citizen assembly process”, i.e., the way allotted bodies are being employed nowadays within the existing power structure. Some excerpts are below. [The text seems to be an automatic translation of an original text in French(?) and contains some dubious phrases, which I tried to correct.]

Betting on direct civil democracy is not an innocent game

Belgium jumps on the bandwagon of democratic renewal. The elected representatives of the people increasingly seem to desire direct assistance through the insights and advice of ordinary citizens. There is a project under way in the German-speaking community where commissions drawn up by lot can provide input to Parliament. The federal government has just completed an online citizen survey inviting us to share ideas about the future of Belgium. The Vivaldi government itself also has a bill ready to allow bodies in which citizens selected by lot can engage in dialogue with each other, politicians, experts and civil society to formulate policy recommendations for state reform.

Various arguments are used to support these types of initiatives. Politicians present it as a good sign to increase political participation and citizen participation. Civic democracy as a means of bridging the gap with citizens and promoting democracy. Proponents often assume that citizen paintings drawn by lottery can speed up and improve political decision-making.

[However, the use of sortition relies on the idea that i]f we inform citizens adequately and allow them to reasonably discuss with each other, we can track down the will of the people. This assumption is problematic. First, the outcomes of the allotted body may reflect what citizens see after deliberation about a particular political topic. But the rest of the population may not be convinced. The use of citizens’ committees thus runs counter to the idea that democracy is a form of self-government. After all, the well-thought-out judgments made by allotted citizens do not match what the what the population thinks or wants. Democracy as autonomy is not served by a participatory shortcut that is taken over the heads of the majority of citizens. Rather, the strength of deliberative democracy lies in the attempt to involve the whole of society in political opinion and decision-making, particularly through open debate in the public sphere and through diverse civil society and civil society.
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Marcel Monin: What about sortition?

Marcel Monin is a doctor of law. He writes the following in the French website AgoraVox.

What about sortition?

The substance and the goals of decisions made – which elude the people, and the conduct of the elites with regards to the people, especially over the last 5 years, lead sometime to doubt that we are still living in a democracy. Who wants government of the people, by the people, for the people, when those same elites are those standing for election?

The considerations made 2,500 years ago regarding the respective merits of sortition and elections and regarding their practice are again in vogue. Some advocate replacing elections with sortition.

Sortition, it appears, has advantages.

From a technical point of view:

  • It eliminates professionalism and thus the the submission of the elected to the internal rules of attaining and maintaining office (with its implications on the elected-electors relationship).
  • It eliminates the dependence before the elections in groups of financial backers who finance the electoral campaigns and which manipulate the voters through the media they own. (See the ideal-type example of this phenomenon with the candidate Macron.)
  • It overcomes the obstable of campaign cost which keeps the poor away from being candidates, somewhat similar to how things were when only the rich had the vote. The presidential elections show this effect in accentuated to an absurd degree.
  • Statistically, humble people would have less of a chance of being under-represented.

However, still from a technical point of view there are disadvantages. Among them are:
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Meeting: Saturday, July 16, 2022 – International Network of Sortition Advocates

The International Network of Sortition Advocates will have our next meeting on, Saturday, July 16, 2022, at 15:00 GMT [16:00 Europe, 17:00 Israel, 10:00 AM US EDT, 2:00 Australia AEDT].

The meeting will be held on our Discord platform. You must register on the app to attend the meeting. If you’re interested in registering on on the Discord platform and attending the upcoming meeting contact: Rich Brown at rbrowncmt@yahoo.com.

*Please note our desire to keep the meetings to a maximum of 1-hour in length.