Sortition on Ted.com

If you think democracy is broken, here’s an idea: let’s replace politicians with randomly selected people… My TEDxDanubia talk has been promoted to the front page of Ted.com – it should be the featured talk for the next 6 hours or so…
 

 
To celebrate, my publisher, Unbound, has cut the price of the e-book edition of The End of Politicians: Time for a Real Democracy.

Students in Bolivia Prefer Sortition to Elections

Here’s the abstract for an interesting new article, “Democracy Transformed: Perceived Legitimacy of the Institutional Shift from Election to Random Selection of Representatives,” in Journal of Public Deliberation:

Authors:

Simon Pek, Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria

Jeffrey Kennedy, Faculty of Law, McGill University

Adam Cronkright, Democracy In Practice

Abstract

“While democracy remains a firmly-held ideal, the present state of electoral democracy is plagued by growing disaffection. As a result, both scholars and practitioners have shown considerable interest in the potential of random selection as a means of selecting political representatives. Despite its potential, deployment of this alternative is limited by concerns about its perceived legitimacy. Drawing on an inductive analysis of the replacement of elections with random selection in two student governments in Bolivia, we explore stakeholders’ perceptions of the legitimacy of random selection by investigating both their overall support for randomly selecting representatives as well as the views that inform this support. Overall, we find that random selection is indeed accepted as a legitimate means of selecting representatives, with stakeholders broadly preferring random selection and recommending its use in other schools—views which are informed by a critical assessment of random selection’s relative merits. Moreover, we find that perceptions may be affected by contextual factors that extend beyond individuals’ own values. Our findings thus contribute to work on random selection, its contextual embeddedness, and on the values underpinning democratic structures.”

Link to download the article: https://www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol14/iss1/art3/

 

Article The First: Beyond Elections But Lessons From Them

[Disclaimer: I did not intend to write this blog this early.  I’m still caught up by Canadian provincial efforts at electoral reform, of which I’ve posted on Rabble.ca.  That said, an article on Jacobin compelled me, so to speak.]

Article The First: Beyond Elections But Lessons From Them

“After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.” (Article The First)

Tom Malleson’s article on Jacobin, Beyond Electoral Democracy, suggests the implementation of a bicameral legislature, with one of the two bodies being selected entirely by lot.  I would argue that this article doesn’t go far enough, firstly and most importantly because there are no direct proposals for controlling the standards of living of representatives, and because there is not even one path, let alone multiple paths, for instant recallability (Paul Lucardie’s “Jacobinland” and genuine Socialist Politics 101).

Other than this shortcoming, the article doesn’t go far enough because, despite the laudable goal of going beyond elections altogether, there are lessons that can be learned from them: particular features.  The main body for public policymaking and accountability should already be populated by lot, but particular features from various electoral systems should be incorporated.

The first, most important feature from electoral systems that must be incorporated is the party concept.  “Party-recallable” checks on legislators by political parties is the apex of this.  It is no coincidence that historians have written about correlations between vibrant civil societies at large and vibrant party systems, such as in Europe.

The second important feature from electoral systems that must be incorporated is proportional representation:

“Proportional representation, and, until this is introduced, legal redistribution of electoral districts after every census.” (Erfurt Program)
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How to get from elections to sortition? Sortition Foundation strategy workshop

On Sunday June 10, 2-5pm (British Summer Time/GMT + 1) the Sortition Foundation will be discussing strategy: what is the best way to get from elections to sortition?

There will be two face-to-face meetings, one in London and one in Cambridge, with people not in either of those locations welcome to join us online.

If you would like to join us, it is not too late to RSVP, just drop us an email and we will send you links to the agenda, our strategy discussion paper, and all the meeting details.

Strategy Discussion: How to get from elections to sortition?

WhenSunday June 10, 2-5pm (British Summer Time/GMT + 1).

Where: London, Cambridge, and online.

RSVP: Via email.

We look forward to talking with you about what you think is the best way forward.

Mavoix – French group uses sortition to select election candidates

[Note: this is a repost from the Sortition Foundation]

“Who’s representing me the best?”

A group of friends began the collective #MAVOIX (meaning “my voice”) in France in 2015 – they all believed that the current form of our representative democracy has failed us.

The idea was to bring together diverse citizens from different backgrounds to collaborate, discuss and work out how to “hack” the Assemblée Nationale by allowing everyday citizens to participate in the creation of every single law. After a first run at a local election in 2016, the goal was set to send several deputies (Members of Parliament) to Parliament after the June 2017 election. Once elected, these deputies would play a very special role. Instead of voting according to their own program or convictions, they would always vote according to the outcome of every citizen who had voted on an online platform: if, for example, 10 #MAVOIX deputies were in the Assembly, and the result from the online platform about a law was 40% YES, 30% NO and 30% ABSTENTION, then the #MAVOIX deputies would vote in the same proportions (in this case: 4 YES, 3 NO, 3 ABSTENTIONS).

To prepare for the national election campaign, the collective worked for two years without any leaders or charismatic personalities. Decisions were made horizontally, after in depth discussions, always trying to find a consensus. If people disagreed, they could “fork” (a software development term), which means both options were tested. Soon afterwards, taking into account the results of the experiment, people could decide which option(s) to drop and how to improve the one they kept. This forking process was at the heart of the experimental spirit of #MAVOIX: myriads of small actions, followed by sharing of what has been learnt. An online forum, local/national  meetings  and open-source software were the tools used to share know-how and to deliberate on any choices to be made.

And because every contributor was an expert in some area, they developed a peer-to-peer process of teaching and learning skills. For instance, students from the Political-Science University created a MOOC  to help everybody understand the actual duties and obligations of an MP (Member of Parliament) during his or her term in office. In these ways contributors could help and volunteer and bring  ideas to resonate with the campaign.
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Fintan O’Toole: If only Brexit had been run like Ireland’s referendum

Fintan O’Toole has a glowing account in the Guardian about Ireland’s constitutional referendum. It advertises the allotted chamber process as the antidote to what troubles the establishment with electoral politics.

As O’Toole’s sees things, the trouble with electoral politics is “tribalism and fake ‘facts’”. With some careful management, the public can come to see sense and vote accordingly.

In all the excitement of what happened in Ireland’s referendum on abortion, we should not lose sight of what did not happen. A vote on an emotive subject was not subverted. The tactics that have been so successful for the right and the far right in the UK, the US, Hungary and elsewhere did not work. A democracy navigated its way through some very rough terrain and came home not just alive but more alive than it was before. In the world we inhabit, these things are worth celebrating but also worth learning from. Political circumstances are never quite the same twice, but some of what happened and did not happen in Ireland surely contains more general lessons.

Sortition in Jacobin magazine

Tom Malleson, assistant professor of social justice and peace studies at King’s University College at Western University, Canada, writes in Jacobin magazine that “we need a legislature by lot”.

Some excerpts make the following points. Electoralist regimes are not democratic:

[There is] widespread disillusionment that many of the world’s people feel towards their purportedly democratic systems. [T]he truth, widely known yet rarely acknowledged, is that the American political system is increasingly run not by the people, but by the rich. Plutocracy. Leading scholars of American politics Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page conclude their recent study with the observation that “the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose.”

The standard reform proposals show little promise to fundamentally improve the situation:

What, then, is to be done? There has long been a conventional answer on the center-left: proportional representation and campaign finance reform — the former to enhance the representativeness of elections and the latter to reduce the distorting effects of money. This intuitive belief that the answer to our democratic problems is enhanced elections runs so deep that it is like an article of faith.

Yet should reformed electoral democracy really be the ultimate aim of our democratic hopes and dreams? Consider some of the places that are much closer to achieving an equitable electoral system, such as Canada, the UK, and particularly Western Europe. Such systems tend to function much more democratically than the US, but they run into the same basic problems with elections.

Money continues to play an important role, biasing elections towards the wealthy. Governments continue to be incredibly unrepresentative of the population — almost always composed of rich, white, middle-aged men. Even in Sweden, the young, the less educated, and the working class continue to be dramatically underrepresented (for instance, blue-collar workers make up about 9 percent of members of parliament despite comprising 41 percent of the electorate).

[T]he electoral process is inherently biased in favor of the rich — thereby undermining the cherished democratic ideal of political equality — because the precondition to winning an election is having the time and resources to communicate with the public and mobilize support, and that will always be done more effectively by those who have more money. This means that electoral democracy, regardless of campaign finance rules, will always be somewhat tilted towards the affluent.

Democracy and elections are incompatible:

If you lived in any previous historical era and told your neighbor that you believed in democracy, they would have understood what you meant. Yet if you had said that you believed in democracy and elections, they would have thought you’d lost your marbles.

For more than two thousand years, it was common knowledge that the only people who wanted elections were the rich and the powerful, since they were the ones who invariably benefitted from them. Those who genuinely believed in democracy, on the other hand, believed that political power must be kept in the hands of regular people and typically advocated the selecting of political positions by lot.

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