Citizen assemblies in Bristol

Adam Postans and Matty Edwards report in The Bristol Cable (January 15, 2020):

Experiment in democracy, as council to pilot citizens’ assemblies

Bristolians could be gathered to make decisions on issues such as the climate crisis.

One of the biggest shake-ups in years in how decisions are taken on the major issues in Bristol has been approved with the introduction of citizens’ assemblies.

It came as the city council’s ruling Labour group threw its weight behind the Green Party’s idea, with backing from the Lib Dems.

But the Tories voted against it amid fears it would become “consultation on steroids” and add an unnecessary new layer of bureaucracy when, they say, the power of the mayor should instead be returned to councillors.
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Residents will be chosen at random, like jury service for the assemblies and be paid to spend time hearing from experts on complex issues, including the climate emergency, before making decisions which could be binding on Bristol City Council.

Labour said it “radically strengthened” the Greens’ motion by assigning between £5million and £10million from the council’s capital budget to the “deliberative democracy” proposals, including giving communities more power over spending decisions in their areas.

But Tory group leader Cllr Mark Weston said: “We are going to end up with consultation on steroids. You will have opinions expressed from the centre of the city, all having the same view, and suburbs won’t have their say.”

Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections translated to Japanese

Prof. Seiki Okazaki of Kyushu University, Japan, wrote to draw attention to the publication of a translation of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections to Japanese. It seems the book has generated significant interest in Japan. Prof. Okazaki attributes the positive reception to some extent to the fact that sortition-based judicial institutions have been part of the Japanese system for a decade.

The Japanese translation of David Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections (Tegen Verkiezingen) appeared in April 2019 […] Three of the four national newspapers published a book review: the Yomiuri Shimbun on May 19, the Asahi Shimbun on June 1, and the Nikkei on August 10. Many regional newspapers printed a book review transmitted by Kyodo News. Other newspapers and magazines also reviewed the book favourably. Supported by these reviews, the book was reprinted as early as September 2019.

2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the the lay judge trial system and of the mandatory prosecution through citizen review of non-charge decisions. These are both reforms related to the criminal justice system in Japan enhancing the participation of citizens using sortition in a procedure that was until then exclusive territory of professionals. As the Supreme Court noted, the lay judge system has become well accepted and acquired legitimacy in Japanese society. Japanese citizens have become familiar with sortition in the judicial system and realize how this enhances quality and democracy in the courts. This is probably one of the reasons that Japanese citizens are interested in the central arguments developed in Against Elections and why sortition was not immediately rejected a proposal unfeasible for Japanese society.

However, the most important factor for the book’s success is the wide and deep distrust of party politics. Opinion polls show that about 40 percent of Japanese voters support no political party.

OKAZAKI Seiki, one of the translators of Against Elections, proposed to replace the elected House of Councillors with the sorted House of Citizens. He suggests that the sorted House can exercise veto power over the decisions of the elected House (Okazaki Seiki, “Election and Sortition,” Kenpo-kenkyu (Review of Constitutional Law), No. 5, November 2019, pp. 87-96. Written in Japanese).

Sortition in tribal democracy

Alpa Shah writes in the Hindustan Times:

The electoral process is said to be the cornerstone of the world’s biggest democracy. But it has also often been about maintaining or gaining power, status, and money as a means to exert elite control over the political process. Perhaps, it is not surprising then that across India, one finds that those involved in electoral politics are also seen by ordinary people as doing “rajneeti”, an impure and immoral world of corruption, illicit activity and ruthlessness.

As a long-term researcher of Jharkhand, I find that discussions about democracy in India have been reduced to mere elections. But there is an alternative form of democracy that was central to some of Jharkhand’s tribal communities. And it may contain the seeds of a transformative global process of democracy that allows ordinary people the power to rule the world. It is democracy by sortition — the use of random selection to choose those who govern us.

I first saw it in December 2000, less than a month after Jharkhand became a separate state, in the Munda tribe village, where I was staying as a social anthropologist. They were selecting their new pahan and paenbharra, who presided over secular and sacred village matters, for three years.
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Davis: Follow The Sortition Money

Iain Davis is an anti-establishment blogger. He has recently posted a fairly lengthy article with his views on sortition. He is supportive of the idea in principle, but suspicious of the “sortition movement”. Here are some excerpts from the article:

For it’s staunchest proponents, sortition would create assemblies empowered to make binding decision or set policy. A potential new form of government to augment and eventually replace what they see as a failing party political, parliamentary democratic system. [However, t]he form of sortition proposed will not give the people a stronger voice. It will, in fact, deliver the precise opposite.

I am sure the vast majority of those calling for sortition have the best of intentions. Yet, like most mass movements that suddenly spring from nowhere, such as Extinction Rebellion, there are powerful influences guiding them. Always striving to protect and maintain their power, by exploiting the good will of ordinary people, and always at the expense of the citizen for the benefit of the corporation.

We should be careful to avoid rejection of sortition outright. It is not the principle, but rather its current suggested implementation that is problematic. The random selection of a jury by lot, to deliberate on the operation of the Rule of Law, with the power to annul, is a form of sortition that would actually work. It would empower the people, providing both oversight of the political establishment and limit the nefarious influence of the corporate lobby who determine the policies of the political parties.

This is in stark contrast to the offer of sortition currently planned.

Davis argues that the fact that the actors in the “sortition movement” address their proposals to established powerful interests, and that those interests find favor in those proposals is proof that the proposals on the table are not really about changing the power structure.

In addition to this basic general argument, Davis makes various more specific points.

Corporate ties. Davis points out that a powerful backer of the sortition movement is the Belgiorno-Nettis Foundation, which is based on the Belgiorno-Nettis fortune. Davis deduces: “Quite simply, financial gain appears to be the motivation for their advocacy of sortition. At least, that strong possibility can’t be ruled out.” He points out other sortition advocacy organizations are backed by various corporate sponsors as well. “If the claimed purpose is to give more power to the people, this whole sortition thing is starting to look like an oxymoron.”
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Electoral redistricting by an allotted citizens commission in Michigan

The Monroe News from Michigan reports:

Applicants sought for Michigan redistricting panel

The Secretary of State’s office recently sent 250,000 randomly selected Michigan voters applications to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The 13-member commission will be responsible for drawing the boundaries for the state’s Senate and House of Representatives districts. It also will design the districts for the congressional delegation.

The commission is being formed as a result of the passage of Proposal 2 in November 2018. The ballot measure amended the state constitution to grant the authority to an independent citizen commission, taking the power away from the state’s governor and the Legislature.

Proposal 2 passed statewide 2,522,355- 1,593,556.

The commission will be composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five voters who do not identify with either party. Districts are redrawn every 10 years in response to the U. S. Census, which will be conducted this year.

Per the proposal, the secretary of state’s office is required to mail out the applications to at least 10,000 randomly selected voters. Troy-based Rehmann LLC handled the selection process.

Residents within the state who weren’t part of the random mailing also may apply for the commission.

2019 review – statistics

Below are some statistics about the tenth year of Equality-by-Lot. Comparable numbers for last year can be found here.

2019 Page views Posts Comments
Jan 3,353 11 93
Feb 3,372 8 125
Mar 4,681 9 129
Apr 3,740 12 70
May 4,056 8 95
June 3,546 10 160
July 3,319 10 159
Aug 3,589 8 122
Sept 4,002 7 109
Oct 5,041 10 129
Nov 4,535 9 102
Dec (to 25th) 3,605 9 53
Total 46,839 111 1,346

Note that page views do not include visits by logged-in contributors – the wordpress system does not count those visits.

Posts were made by 16 authors during 2019. (There were, of course, many other authors quoted and linked to.)

There are currently 413 email and WordPress followers of this blog. In addition there are 419 Twitter followers (@Klerotarian) and 67 Facebook followers.

Searching for “distribution by lot” (with quotes) using Google returns Equality-by-Lot as the 1st result (out of “about 39,300 results”). Searching for “sortition” returns Equality-by-Lot as the 6th result (out of “about 163,000 results”) – preceded by the sortition entry at Wikipedia, links to Brett Hennig’s Sortition Foundation, and a link to Tim Dunlop’s article in the Guardian.

Happy holidays, a happy new year and a happy new decade to Equality-by-Lot readers, commenters and posters. Keep up the good fight for democracy!

The Democratic Diarchy

Alex Kovner and myself have been banging on for some time about the ongoing necessity for political parties (albeit in a heavily-modified form) for policy proposal and advocacy in a well-functioning democracy (the disposal role being reserved for randomly-selected juries) and this has not gone down particularly well on this forum. We’re presenting a short paper on it at the Association for Political Thought conference at Oxford in January and would greatly appreciate feedback before we go. It’s very short and we’ve put a lot of effort into refining and clarifying the necessary distinctions. The full paper is on Academia.edu, here’s the abstract:

Isegoria (equal speech) and isonomia (equal law), the two norms that constituted classical Athenian democracy, were implemented respectively by the right of every citizen to propose (or argue against) new laws (isegoria), and equal voting rights over their implementation (isonomia). In the fourth century the latter (disposal) function was entrusted to large, randomly-selected juries (nomothetai) that could be viewed as descriptively-representative microcosms of the citizen body. Isegoria rights were restricted to the five citizens elected by the assembly.

Most current models for ‘citizens’ assemblies’, although claiming Athenian provenance, more closely resemble modern parliaments in that the proposal and disposal functions are conflated, the only difference being that citizens’ assemblies are not constituted by preference election. This paper argues that such models result from a conceptual confusion, have no historical precedent and are vulnerable to corruption and domination by the very hegemonic forces that they seek to counter. The paper argues that, whilst the democratic argument for legislative decision-making (disposal) by a large ad hoc representative jury is persuasive, sortition can have no role to play in the proposal function and such sortition-based bodies can only be part of a mixed constitution in which political parties (albeit of a radically different form to their current incarnation) are required in order to implement ‘representative isegoria’.

And here’s details of the conference panel:

‘The Circumstances of Sortition’

  • David Owen (University of Southampton), ‘The Uses of Sortition’
  • Yves Sintomer (Université de Paris 8), ‘The Contrasted Models of Democracy in Sortition-Based Innovations’
  • Alex Kovner; and Keith Sutherland (University of Exeter), ‘Isegoria and Isonomia: Election by Lot and the Democratic Diarchy’
  • Peter Stone (Trinity College Dublin), ‘The Paradox of Sortition’