The Newid proposal

Martin Wilding Davies invited responses to his proposal for a sortition-based government system (as he outlined it in comments to Keith Sutherland’s post on opendemocracy.net).

The main features of his proposal, as I understand it, are:

  1. The system relies on two legislature bodies: the Assembly and the Forum.
  2. The Assembly is chosen as a random sample of the population and serves for a period of “up to 3 months”. Service will be mandatory and will carry some material and honorific rewards.
  3. The method of selection of Forum members is not fully specified, but it is clearly meant to be, at least to some extent, an elite body. Its term of service is not specified.
  4. The Forum will set the public policy agenda by generating legislation proposals. These will then come before the Assembly which will either accept or reject them, but will also be allowed to “amend” the proposals.
  5. Decisions in both the Forum and the Assembly will be arrived at “by consensus”.
  6. Another group with some political power will be “advocates”. These are judges who will “make the case for or against specific actions or requirements, [present] evidence, [call] expert witnesses and representatives of interest groups”.
  7. “Policy will be implemented by a professional executive recruited by headhunters and appointed, scrutinised and where necessary replaced by the National Assembly.”

Here are my thoughts:

There are quite a few important details that the proposal leaves unspecified or unclear. This makes it hard to figure out what interests can be expected to be represented by the political actors in the proposed system and the amount of power which each of the actors would wield. It is therefore hard to estimate how well the popular interest can be expected to be represented. (Of course, such estimates are educated guesses even under the best of circumstances.) The prescription that decisions are to be arrived at by consensus adds to the uncertainty. It is not clear what happens in the likely case that there is a holdout minority opposed to the majority opinion on a particular matter.

Despite these ambiguities it is fairly clear that the Assembly would have relatively little power, if for no other reason then due to its short tenure. A group of strangers cannot be expected to leave its normal routine, get familiar with a complex set of new ideas and facts and reach informed decisions about policy proposals within 3 months. Amending such proposals (something that requires more initiative and cooperation within the group) within this short period is completely unrealistic.

Thus, most governmental political power can be expected to reside in the Forum, the advocates and the executive. The people or organizations controlling membership in those government groups will potentially have some considerable political power as well. Since the qualifications for membership and the nomination process are left unspecified it is difficult to guess how important this influence is going to be, but unless the mechanism is completely automatic or a method of co-optation, it is likely to be a significant source of extra-governmental power affecting the government.

A major factor determining how power would be divided between the Forum, the advocates and the executive is, again, the length of service in those institutions.  The executive and the advocates, it seems, may have high-level career members who spend many years dealing with the machinations of the state and with the much less experienced members of the Assembly. If the term of the Forum is short (say, up to a year or two), and the incumbency rates are low, it is likely that the Forum will be comparatively weak and the Assembly will be controlled to a large extent by those career officials. If the Forum has longer terms or has a large number of multiple-term members, the Forum is likely to enjoy some power as well.

Whether the advocates, the executive or the Forum becomes ascendant matters little, since in any case it would be a group that is not representative of the public. The long term government officials and those who control the selection process are likely to become a power elite with its own interests, which are unaligned with those of the public. Whatever policy the elite produces will further its own interests rather than those of the average citizen.

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3 Responses

  1. The Sortition Party

    A logical way to introduce sortition to government is to start a sortition party. The sortition party is uniquely governed by sortitioned leadership. This leadership is part of a unique party organization. The current existing example is the Newid party of Wales.

    http://www.newidmeanschange.org

    The American demarchy party requires its own governing structure formula. A simple structure is best. The greater the structure complexity, the greater the potential skew of representation.

    The party citizenship is comprised of volunteer registered party members. The party has two governing branches, the sortitioned branch and the elected branch. Each government branch has equal power of decision by a majority of each branch. All party policy requires the majority approval of both branches.

    The size of the sortitioned and elected chamber is set by the most practical and mathematically proportioned sampling of current citizenry. Each election district is independently drawn by best statistical fit apportionment. Election districts are automatically redrawn when the skew of apportionment becomes statistically significant. An independent committee maintains accurate scientific and mathematically correct district lines. (not by state or gerrymander)

    The sortitioned are appointed by lottery from party citizenship. The elected are chosen by ballot of party citizenship. The election ballot allows three choices per position. Choices are defined by first, second, and third. The election winner is decided by a weighted count of balloted 1st,2nd, and 3rd choices.

    Maximum professional payment to participating party members, for service to the party, is limited to not exceed the medium income of all party citizenry. Campaign contribution toward election is limited to party citizenry individual contribution. (no legal business or government entities or political groupings allowed) All election contributions are documented by receipt from the citizenry. All campaign contributions and expenditures are posted on the internet. An upper-limit individual-election-campaign contribution is set by party government.

    The immediate work to establish a sorition party starts by recruiting party citizens. The requirement of citizenship is registration including name, age, address, and contact information. The immediate goal is to recruit enough party citizens to allow statistically sound sampling size for the sortitioned and elected chamber districts.

    This discussion is meant only as an outline for preliminary formation of a sortition party. It all starts somewhere. Suggestion is welcome and compromise is valued.

    Anyone game to proceed?

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  2. Hi Ronald,

    I am not sure that having a political party (as opposed to a non-party organization such as the Kleroterians) makes much of difference at this point. I agree that getting people to sign on to the idea of sortition (as a real political possibility rather than as a good hypothetical) is the first order of business. (This is one of the objectives of this blog.)

    Any concrete ideas on effective ways to generate a constituency for sortition would be very useful. Talking to friends? (I already do that. Although one has to be careful not to appear as a monomaniacal crank.) Handing out flyers at street corners? Inviting people who write about sortition to join the Kleroterians? Google ads for the blog? Other web activities?

    Regarding the structure of governance within the organization: at this point the organization is small enough (both in people and resources) so that a formal structure is probably unnecessary. If and when the body of sortition supporters becomes large enough that an internal governance structure is needed, sortition must indeed be an important pillar of that structure.

    By the way, the problem of gerrymandering does not exist in a sortition system. The effectiveness of gerrymandering is wholly due to the majoritarian mechanism used in elections. Once this mechanism is replaced with sampling, the way the population is partitioned into districts (if at all) makes very little difference to the results.

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  3. Letter to coffeepartyusa.com

    Sortition in Government
    Change, not a dream.
    A new democracy.

    Ancient Greek democracy selected government officials by sortition. An elaborate “Las Vegas” style system of lottery chose government office holders randomly from the general population. Ancient Athenians considered sortition a principal characteristic of democracy.

    Sortition political assignment assures scientific and mathematically equal representation in government of all political fault-lines. That is, it scientifically and mathematically guarantees equal representation of gender, ethnic, economic, religious, and political viewpoints.

    A current existing example of political action seeking sortition in government is the Newid party of Wales in Britain.

    http://www.newidmeanschange.org

    A sortitioned democracy is simple, scientific, and guarantees grass root governance. All more complex systems risk potential skew in government representation.

    A simple sortition democracy has two governing branches, the sortitioned branch and the elected branch. Each government branch has equal power of decision. Policy requires the majority approval of both branches.

    The size of the sortitioned and elected chambers are set by the most practical and mathematically proportioned sampling of current citizenry. Sortition and election districts are independently drawn by best statistical fit apportionment. These districts are automatically redrawn when the skew of apportionment becomes statistically significant. An independent committee maintains accurate scientific and mathematically correct district lines. (not political, by state, or gerrymander)

    The sortitioned chamber is appointed by lottery. The elected chamber is chosen by ballot. Together is formed a new democracy guaranteeing 50% pure grass roots participation.

    Elected leadership unavoidably and naturally introduces skew into government representation. Sortitioned leadership is 100% guaranteed grass roots.

    The Coffee Party might consider a sortitioned chamber along with an elected chamber when establishing party organization. The Coffee Party can then claim the uniqueness of being the first party to guarantee 50% pure grass roots participation in its governance.

    Comments, suggestions, questions, and input welcome.

    coach-1640280
    http://coach-1640280.newsvine.com/

    Like

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