The Gilets Jaunes: what are the prospects for sortition?

An article in RTL by Laure-Hélène de Vriendt and AFP (original in French, Dec. 29, 2018):

Gilets Jaunes marching in Montmartre

Perspective: Some among the Gilets Jaunes propose using citizen participation via sortition in order to create a list for the European elections.

To be used in “the great debate” by the government, proposed by some “gilets jaunes” for the European elections, citizen participation via sortition is riding high, despite some limits emphasized by researchers.

Its detractors fear a “talk-shop where legitimacy is only up to chance”, undermining the foundations of elections. Its supporters praise “the equality of chance to participate in the debate” which sortition makes possible, a specialist in democratic systems working at the Paris VIII university.

In any case, the method has the support of the government: within the framework of “the great debate”, to be held in January and February as a response to the Gilets Jaunes movement, meetings of a hundred allotted citizens in each region will be held in order to give their opinion on the grievances mounting everywhere in France.

“The idea is to make sure that the Frenchpeople who are not necessarily those most involved in public life and public conversation can give their ideas about the debate and the proposals”, explained PM Édouard Philippe last week in Haute-Vienne.

“A much more diverse representation”
For prof. Loïc Blondiaux, a specialist in those matters in Paris I university, “it is a response to the crisis of representation”. Sortition “guarantees a much more diverse representation” because “if we look at the social makeup of Parliament, there are very few workers and wage earners, as opposed to the Gilets Jaunes and to the future assembly members of the “great debate”, emphasizes the researcher. “The representatives will not speak instead of the citizens but as citizens, it is a different voice”, he asserts.

Until now, civic participation via sortition never went above the local level in France. After an experiment during the summer with a national debate for the 5-year energy plan, it “reaches for the first time the national level, with the demand coming from below”, emphasizes Yves Sintomer.

Although citizens councils and participative budgeting using sorititon already exist in municipalities, he observes, “the only institutionalization of sortition at the national level is in trial juries”, going back to the revolution.
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Thought Piece: Sharing Sortition With Some Soul

In a new essay, Sharing Sortition With Some Soul, Adam Cronkright and Simon Pek suggest we can make lot/sortition more accessible and appealing through savvy and emotive communication. Their goal to stimulate thought and debate, and also to start a practical conversation about framing and messaging to incorporate relevant insights from the well-developed art and science of persuasive communication into the Sortition Space.

Introduction

All of us in the Sortition Space, from the organizations in Democracy R&D to the regular readers of Equality by Lot, are passionate about sortition and hopeful that it can empower everyday people and deepen democracy. The last decade has seen exciting advances on this front: mini-publics are on the rise, as are related books and articles, and we are connecting and collaborating with each other more than ever. But although we have grown and moved in from the fringe, we are still quite small and sortition is still quite marginal. And this should surprise us, especially given how desperate our societies seem for anything that could right the sinking ship of traditional electoral politics.

Political crises ripple through our countries and trust in government tanks, yet almost 50 years after its resurrection few people have even heard of sortition. Demagogues rise a wave of democratic disenchantment, yet few people who have heard of it seriously consider sortition. And we promote our cause everywhere from dinner parties to democracy conferences, yet few of our listeners seem to care about sortition. Some are surprisingly skeptical (given such frustration with the status quo), while others seem to find our case convincing but not compelling. 
But sortition is important and inspiring, so where are we going wrong?

In this short essay, drawing on research on political communication, we suggest that the primary stumbling blocks are an affinity to language that doesn’t always fit our audiences, and a lack of skill and comfort with persuasion—especially in the realm of emotion. We argue that the latter is likely due to our deep predisposition toward rational and objective communication. As illustrative examples, we offer concrete ways to overcome these challenges, juxtaposed with typical sortition speech. And we conclude with an invitation for others to join us in developing a suite of recommendations to make our messaging about sortition more captivating and memorable.

View or download the full essay with the following link (note: if you get a popup window that asks you to sign in or create an account, just click the ‘x’ in the upper right corner or “No thanks, continue to view” at the bottom). Link: Sharing Sortition With Some Soul (PDF)

If there is interest, they will follow-up with a future post suggesting ways to organize a larger conversation/collaboration.

Post Image: Randomly-selected participants in a debate run by Missions Publiques (France) 
© Rebecca Cosquéric.

The Guardian view on Brexit: the government has failed – it’s time to go back to the people

According to the lead editorial in today’s Guardian:

We urgently need innovative ways to resolve the referendum vote. Setting up a citizens’ assembly is the first step to break the impasse . . . Britain should pause the article 50 process and put Brexit on hold. Parliament should explicitly reject no-deal. MPs should then open up the debate to the country: first, by establishing a citizens’ assembly to examine the options and issues that face the nation; and second, by giving parliament the right, if it so chooses, to put these alternatives in a referendum this year or next.

It’s worth pointing out that this approach involves a mixture of sortive, elective and plebiscitary elements.

Right-wing support for sortition

A paper has just been uploaded to Academia.edu entitled Instituting a Democratic Sortition in America. The author, Terry Hulsey (who hails from the Abbeville Institute, which lauds the culture of the Confederacy and the “Southern tradition”), offers a libertarian (anarcho-capitalist) critique of social democracy and is no fan of equality (as currently conceived):

A second large group of political scientists writing about sortition are those who, dismayed that over 95% of the elective oligarchy of legislators are white males – and about half of them lawyers – seek equality in the form of proportional representation for women, for minorities currently based on race, and for unspecified protean “disadvantaged” factions. Hugo Bonin, Ernest Callenbach, and Michael Phillips are typical of this group. All of them embrace “diversity” while being curiously blind to the fact that diversity is the opposite of equality. They seek equality for the various factions that are assembled not for their diversity, but for their adherence to a prevailing ideology. What were the unequally represented factions of a century ago? They were the factions of class: Worker, bourgeois, and landlord. Clearly the factions are assembled according to political considerations, and not according to measurable benefits for the society as a whole. For how will those who are half black and half Latino be represented? Would they not be doubly represented? How many legislators will represent the Frisian immigrants? And how many will represent the left-handed Frisians with a limp? All such schemes that embrace sortition from egalitarian motives fail because they are based on arbitrary groupings formed by the fashionable watchwords of the day.

Personally I’m encouraged that sortition is now appealing across the political spectrum, and would encourage posters and commentators to try to keep their partisan views to themselves in order to help enlarge the sortition community.

Chouard: An allotted referendum chamber

Etienne Chouard, who has been the most vocal and consistent French advocate for sortition, is having somewhat of a day in the limelight in the context of the Gilets Jaunes protests. Chouard’s other major procedural proposal is the Popular initiative (in french: Referendum d’initiative citoyenne, often referred to as RIC).

A major issue with the popular initiative process, which is practiced in Switzerland and in various US states, is the ballot qualification process. In order to cut down the number of proposals on the ballot to a reasonable number, some hurdle has to be introduced. This hurdle is usually set as the collection of a large number of signatures. This makes qualification resource intensive and thus much easier for elite interests than for the average citizen.

In an interview (original in French), Chouard lays out an interesting alternative:

Chouard: “The RIC makes it possible for a group of people, or for a single person, to pose a question for the whole of the people. One of the first questions to ask ourselves is how many people can legitimately pose a question. In Italy, in Switzerland, it is 100,000, 500,000. It could be a million. It is for us to decide. […] I would say that a single person should be able to pose a question.”

Of course, the immediate consequence of this proposal, unlimited RIC without a minimal quota, is chaos. To handle this issue, the blogger proposes a “referendum chamber” whose members are allotted ordinary citizens, as in the Athenian democracy.

Also worth noting, and commending, the way Chouard affirms his democratic convictions in response to the standard question about the danger that his proposed system would produce bad policy:

I am a democrat. That means that I support the people deciding their destiny themselves and making the most important decisions themselves. At the same time if we are really democrats and honest, then we must expect that from time to time there would be issues, which can be important ones, about which the people would make decisions that would not be the ones we would make.

The full interview (almost an hour) is available as a video.

Le Figaro: Allotted French-people to participate in the national debate

Le Figaro (Dec. 21st, 2018) [original in French]:

“The Yellow Vests”: Allotted French-people to particpate in the national debate

The government wishes to have French-people selected via sortition participate in each region in meetings organized in the framework of the great debate promised as a response to the “Yellow Vests” crisis, announced [French PM] Edouard Philippe today. On the eve of a sixth Sunday of mobilization in France, the government and the coalition are hoping that emergency measures being adopted and the promise of this great debate will allow to diffuse the crisis.

“We believe that it would be wise to proceed with the appointment, the selection, the meetings which, in each one of the regions, could bring together about 100 French citizens chosen by lot, at random, which will discuss the result of this debate and participate in some way in this debate”, said the Prime Minister during a visit to Haute-Vienne.

“The idea is to have within those group some French-people which are not necessarily those most involved in public life, in the public debate, being able to give their opinions in the debate and to give their opinions regarding the proposals”, he added.

More sortition in the Guardian

In October, the Guardian published an excerpt from Tim Dunlop’s sortition-advocating book “The Future of Everything”. Today, James Bridle offers the readers of the Guardian to apply sortition to the Brexit issue. (Of course, he is not the first with this idea.)

How can we break the Brexit deadlock? Ask ancient Athens
James Bridle

Citizens’ assemblies have their roots in sortition – selecting citizens at random to fill public posts – which was once central to democracy

In the central marketplace of ancient Athens, around 350BC, there stood a machine called the kleroterion. This was a six-foot-high slab of stone that had a series of slots on the front, and a long tube bored down from the top to the base. Those up for selection for the various offices of state would insert metal ID tags, called pinakia, into the slots, and a functionary would pour a bucket of coloured balls, suitably shaken, into the top of the tube. The order in which the balls emerged would determine who took which role, some for the day, some for a year.