Distinguishing characteristics, positively valued?

In a 2007 interview, Bernard Manin explains to Hélène Landemore his theory of the principle of distinction (my translation):

[E]lites play in effect an important role in a representative government. This is so because elections necessariliy select individuals who possess uncommon characteristics which are positively valued by the voters. A candidate who is not distinguished by certain traits that are judged favorably cannot win an electoral competition. That said, the electoral method does not determine which specific distinguishing characteristics positive judgment are those which would get candidates elected. These characteristics are determined by the preferences of the voters, that is, by ordinary citizens. The voters choose the distinguishing qualities which they want to find in their representatives. The qualities could consist of a number of things, including an exceptional ability to express and disseminate a certain political opinion. Even in this case, we are still dealing with elites, in the sense these people who are exceptionally capable of defending an opinion possess a talent that most of the people who share the opinion do not. This is the meaning I attach to the term “elites”.

Manin’s claim that the distinguishing characteristics of the elected must be valued positively by the voters, or else they would not be able to win the elections, is empirically refuted by the case of the 2016 presidential elections in the US. In this case, both candidates are disliked by a plurality of the voters, have negative favorability numbers and have a majority of their “supporters” state that they are voting against their opponents rather than for them.

Reimagining democracy


Sortition advocacy in North Carolina

Owen Shaffer, a retired college professor living in Asheville, NC has an opinion piece in the local Citizen Times. Unlike many sortition advocates, Shaffer is not talking half-measures. He is ready to dispose of elections altogether and replace them with sortition:

Is there a better way to select representative bodies to govern us? Is it possible to remove “politics”, “lobbyist”, and “campaign contribution” from our vocabulary, and still have a democracy? Can we remove the oligarchic underpinnings to our democracy? One only needs to look at history to find the answer. “It is thought to be democratic for the offices to be assigned by lot, for them to be elected would be oligarchic” – Aristotle (Politics, Book 4, Section 1294b)

What changes might happen if the random selection of members of a governing body occurs? It would be more likely that they deliberate issues and not sink into decisions based on political affiliation, posturing, and “sound bite” opportunities. They would be unafraid to make hard choices since they would owe no one any favors nor have an opportunity for re-election. In short, they would be more willing to make the right decisions.

“Limiting who can vote”

Ripples from Van Reybrouck’s book made it across the Atlantic and into the Washington Post where Dutch professors of political science Eric Schliesser and Tom Van Der Meer see fit to discuss his proposals for using sortition together with a proposal to “disenfranchise the ignorant to slant political rule toward experts”. They write:

Both [proposals] limit who can vote and seek to stimulate apolitical and rational decision-making:

1) Representatives by lottery. Belgian author and cultural historian David Van Reybrouck suggests abolishing elections and appointing representatives by lottery instead. Van Reybrouck’s proposal extends the principle of sortition — how juries are appointed — to the legislature: Randomly selected citizens would reach the optimal decision via deliberation, supposedly without a need to be bothered with politicking. When their term is up, they go home.

2) Experts as representatives. Philosopher Jason Brennan at Georgetown University suggests disenfranchising the ignorant to slant political rule toward experts. His proposal recently received favorable discussion in The Washington Post. Inspired by Plato, the rule by properly trained experts, or epistocracy, would prevent politicians from being easily swayed by moneyed interests and demagogues.

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Should Citizen Juries Choose America’s President, Congress, Governors and State Legislators?

New article by Simon Threlkeld.

Many people think choosing politicians by popular vote is an essential part of democracy. Nevertheless, there is another way to choose politicians that is in important regards far more democratic and much better. That way is for politicians to be chosen by juries of citizens drawn from the public by random selection.

Ideally, politicians would be chosen in a way that is very democratic, well informed, and independent from moneyed interests and billionaires, with political independents being on a level playing field with party nominees, with no portion of the public being underrepresented, and with candidates not being dependent on the media to get a fair hearing. All of these things can be achieved if politicians are chosen by juries.

After briefly explaining the considerable advantages of choosing politicians by jury rather than popular vote, Simon also briefly proposes two ways juries can be used to make popular elections much more democratic.

If politicians continue to be chosen by popular election, despite the problems with that approach, there are two ways juries can be used to make popular elections much more democratic.

Why America’s Judges should be Chosen by Citizen Juries

Simon Threlkeld has a new article in Dissident Voice, proposing that America’s judges be chosen by randomly sampled judicial selection juries.

Judges should not be chosen by popular vote, nor by politicians. Both approaches are undemocratic and deeply flawed, perhaps even absurd … A far better option is for judges to be chosen by juries drawn from the public by random selection.


The problem with choosing judges by popular election is not that it puts the choice in the hands of the people, but rather that it fails to do so, or does so very badly and inadequately. Fortunately, judicial selection juries provide a remarkably good and informed way for the people to choose judges.

In a democracy the people are the rulers, and are the highest and most legitimate authority, not politicians and political parties, nor the rich interests that fund their electoral victories. For this reason, the judiciary should be chosen by the people, not by politicians. All that is needed is a good informed way for the people to choose judges, something judicial selection juries can provide.

Why Citizen Juries should decide Canada’s Voting Method and Election Rules

A brief by Simon Threlkeld to Canadian House of Commons Electoral Reform Committee, July 26, 2016, briefly explains why election rules, including those setting out the voting method, should be decided by jury, not by politicians or a referendum, and how such a jury approach to democratically deciding election rules could work.

4. Were there no good democratic alternative to politicians deciding the election rules, then perhaps we would be stuck with that very flawed approach. However, there is an excellent and highly democratic way to decide the rules, namely by using citizen juries, or as they can also be called, minipublics or citizens’ assemblies.

(In his brief to the Committee Dennis Pilon has some interesting things to say about referendums and how electoral reform in Canada has long been blocked by the self-interest of politicians. All of the briefs the Committee has posted so far at their website are good, it seems to me. Mine is so far as I know the only one they have received recommending that election rules be decided by citizen juries.)


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