Morena has another round of sortition of congressional candidates

In 2015 the National Regeneration Movement (Spanish: Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA), a left-wing political party in Mexico, first selected some of its congressional candidates via allotment among activists.

It is now repeating this procedure.

Interestingly, while Morena was a relatively small party in 2015, winning about 8.5% of the votes and 47 seats out of 500 in the Chamber of Deputies, Morena is now very high profile, with its presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), being the early front-runner.

Citizens’ juries as activism: holding the US Congress to its constitutional role

For some time now we’ve been ‘proving up’ citizens’ juries as a means of consulting the people, but generally within the context of governments being in charge. As a result they’ve been mostly relatively innocuous. For instance the first two in South Australia were focused on making Adelaide’s nightlife safe and vibrant and getting motorists and cyclists to share the road more safely. They’re pretty anodyne and boutique issues for politicians so it’s pretty low risk. They might generate some answers they’re happy with, help get community buy-in to tricky issues. And if they don’t work out as hoped for, governments can walk away without too much angst.

Having tried exercises with a degree of difficulty of about 3 out of ten, the then Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill had a rush of blood to the head and tried the citizens’ jury with pike and triple twist – rated in the diagnostic and statistical manual of democracy at 10. Should South Australia start a nuclear waste storage industry? The answer was … no, which wasn’t much fun for anyone. Elsewhere in Melbourne a citizens’ jury worked on a ten year budget plan which was certainly well received at the time. The plan is now a few years old and I’m not sure how well it’s stood the test of time.

In the UK, a consortium of academic and other interests held a citizens’ jury on Brexit but, in the angst ridden atmosphere of Brexit Means Brexit Britain, they were at great pains not to antagonise the politicians who were planning on spending the next four years masterminding what the overwhelming majority of them understood to be the disaster of Brexit (you know, the way Australia’s politicians did abolishing carbon pricing against the better judgement of around 80 percent of them – it’s costing the budget over $10 billion a year since you asked.)

Thus, as the organisers collateral put it dutifully, “The UK’s voters have decided to leave the EU. The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit is not reopening this question. This decision has already been made.”[1] However I can’t think of any big change that came about from people playing by the rules of the existing system and asking nicely. And the fact is that sortition has roots going deep into our history and culture – in fact back two and a half millennia to Athens, the birthplace of democratic politics, but also back more than 800 years to Magna Carta in our legal system in the form of juries. As public trust plummets for so many institutions, its trust in juries is alive and well and while ‘vertical’ trust – the trust of people in large and powerful institutions – has been falling, horizontal trust – in people’s peers and People Like Them has not fallen and may have risen.

And, not being able to recall any form of political activism that brought about major change except by asserting its own legitimacy in competition with the legitimacy of the existing system, I want to find ways of confronting the existing system in its weakest places with the legitimacy of citizens’ juries and sortition where they are strongest. This is the way I put it in a recent interview:

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Kolokotronis: Citizen jury for a job guarantee program

Alexander Kolokotronis, writing on the progressive website TruthOut, proposes sortition as a tool for managing a job guarantee program:

Projected 2020 presidential candidates are getting behind a job guarantee (JG). […] If we believe everyone has a right to employment with a living wage, the question is how such guaranteed employment should be structured and designed.

One criticism is that a job guarantee would be overly top-down and perilously unmanageable. However, for years JG advocates have called for a relatively decentralized structure, with locally-oriented rollouts and processes. This is not a lip service counter to JG critics. There are real options for a democratically decentralized JG program. In a recent policy paper and proposal, economist Pavlina Tcherneva devoted a subsection to “participatory democracy,” explicitly citing processes like participatory budgeting (PB). Tcherneva went as far as to assert that participatory governance “is a likely a prerequisite” for the “long-term success” of a JG program.

Fortunately, there are existing participatory institutional forms and processes for JG advocates and implementers to draw on — processes and forms that will not only provide a universal right to employment, but a right to employment under democratic means.

The three participatory mechanisms Kolokotronis offers are participatory budgeting, sortition, and cooperatives. Below is the section about sortition. There are some interesting links on the original page.

How it works: There is growing advocacy and experimentation in “sortition” processes. These processes range from “deliberative polling” to “citizens’ assemblies,” “citizens’ juries” and “planning cells.” Common to all these sortition processes is an assembling of randomly selected individuals to design or review a policy. Advocates and theorists point to the use of sortition in Venice and ancient Athens. This has led some to refer to the wording of “random selection” as a slight mischaracterization. A sortition body operating as a “mini-public” is typically constituted according to a “fair cross-section” of demographic representation. Sortition bodies can operate within individual institutions like hospitals or schools. In sortition bodies, ordinary community members have taken on topics as complex as nuclear energy, GMOs and an array of environmental topics. In terms of scale, they can operate at municipal, statewide and national levels. Until recently, however, sortition bodies designed policy without a binding mechanism for legislation or agenda-setting.
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Lawrence Lessig on deliberative polls

In this interesting and entertaining August 2017 TED Talk, Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor, shows an appreciation for some of what is wrong with decision-making by popular vote in contemporary societies, and for some of the political significance of deliberative polls.

… the answer is not to reject democracy. The answer is to find a way for democracy to represent us better. To give up the idea that when we talk about “we” as in “we the people” we’re talking about what we happen to think now, and replace that idea with a conception of “we” where what we mean is what we think when we are informed and [have] deliberated.

He then indicates deliberative polls provide a “we the people” of the kind he describes, and discusses, in glowing terms, the 800 member deliberative poll in Mongolia on the constitution (at which he was an observer).  He does not (in this video) suggest any actual democratic reforms for the U.S.

Rising Up With Sonali: David Van Reybrouck and Against Elections

David Van Reybrouck was recently interviewed by Sonali Kolhatkar on her show “Rising Up With Sonali” which is broadcast on a couple of public radio stations on the West Coast of the US. The Segment with Van Reybrouck starts about 35 minutes into the recording.

In the course of the interview Van Reybrouck gently points out to the interviewer that her proposals for reforming the electoral system, which are part of the standard reformist list of proposals (from which Ari Berman draws his proposals as well, for example), show no promise in fundamentally fixing the system, since they have been tried over and over worldwide without success.

Bleg for research or contacts on sortition and egalitarianism

Hello to the Equality by Lot community and thanks to Yoram for inviting me to post here.

I’d be really grateful if anyone in the community could help me with something I’m trying to research. A critical question in many people’s minds in assessing the merit or otherwise of sortition based political deliberation is the way in which the conclusions deliberative groups chosen by sortition would differ from the conclusions arrived at after ‘deliberation’ as it occurs in the current system – via the mutual assured misrepresentation we see at the heart of most political campaigns.

Websites such as this one have extensive information on changes of view in individual deliberations in deliberative polling, but I’m interested in what writing has been done to try to characterise the kinds of changes that take place. The only stylised fact I have been able to glean from the literature and from researchers I’ve contacted is that sortition based deliberation tends to produce ‘swings’ towards more socially minded and cooperative conclusions – for instance people show themselves more prepared to pay for collective goods like environmental protection.

The question I’m particularly interested in, is whether deliberation amongst ordinary people tends to make them more supportive of egalitarian policies. To be specific, whether it would support policies to generate a more equal distribution of income and wealth than electoral democracy. It seems to me that it should, and that to some extent that is implied in more ‘social mindedness’ and preparedness to pay for collective goods but I’d be interested in any research or authorities anyone could point me to on the subject.

Lille en comme’un

Could an anarchist organization run a city? The words seem to contradict each other: “anarchist”, “organization” and “run”. The anarchist movement generally presupposes a total absence of authority. But by anarchy I mean a much softer idea: the impermanence of a drawn authority. Municipalism and participatory lists partly implement this idea at the level of the city, and at the commune of Saillans a participatory list uses the drawing of lots on a regular basis. Along that same line of thought, I created this week a group whose name is “Lille en comme’un 2020” aiming to present a list in the next municipal elections of Lille. This name derives from “Barcelona en comu” and also comes from a discussion we had in a meeting of the Listes Participatives Paris. My objective: to participate in the genesis and success of such a list in Lille.


An image illustrating Lille en comme’un 2020. The shape of Lille and inside an enso.

Our meetings will have one thing in common, we will designate with a die the people who will moderate our meetings. One moderates by giving the floor to people who raise their hands, by controlling speaking time, but also by asking the quiet ones for their opinion. Before the appointment, we all agree on a maximum term of office – which can be as short as 20 minutes. Someone then casts a die and the n-th person to their left will moderate – n being the number on the die. At the end of his or her term or if the moderator resigns earlier, he or she rolls the die again to appoint a new moderator. So the power turns.

We have already tried this three times in the meetings of the Paris participative lists. And at our first meeting for Lille en Comme’un that took place last Friday. It worked well (we talked for 4 hours using this method) and this modus operandi makes it possible to avoid long speeches and capture of power in the meeting. This method is not perfect and I was able to observe that one problem at our last meeting in Paris was the absence of a secretary to write a report.

One possible solution that we could test in Lille is for the person who moderates to appoint a secretary at the beginning of his mandate. It is optional to change the person for this function after each moderator’s mandate so that stability and professionalism are brought to the meeting.

Thank you for reading! And I look forward to meeting you in person at Lille en comme’un 2020.

P.S: This post comes from my blog on sortition. Don’t hesitate to pay a visit!