2010 review – sortition-related events

My call for proposals of mention-worthy lottery-related 2010 events garnered one response. Below are, therefore, Peter Stone’s proposal and mine. Happy New Year, and best wishes for 2011.

  • Peter Stone called attention to the 2010 book, Sortition: Theory and Practice, edited by Oliver Dowlen and Gil Delannoi. (Conveniently, Amazon UK, at the link above, allows to peruse some of the book’s contents online.)

    With my personal interest in statistics, I found Antoine Vergne’s sortition-related literature survey – in which he offers some quantitative data – particularly interesting. Vergne defined a corpus of 199 texts starting with 2 published in 1956 (one of which presumably is C. L. R. James’s ‘Every Cook Can Govern’) and ending with 9 texts published in 2008. The texts are about evenly split between ‘descriptive’, ‘exploratory’, and ‘advocative’ texts. Vergne claims that the historical trend “makes it clear that there has been a growing interest in sortition”.

  • To me, the most prominent sortition-related event of the year had been Joe Klein’s blog post suggesting to replace Obama’s budget commission with a Fishkin-style Deliberative Poll. This has been, I think, the most widely read mention this year of the idea of policy setting by a body selected by random sampling. It has generated a small amount of attention.

    It is a sad state of affairs that a poorly argued blog post by a person of such low intellectual and moral standing would easily attract more attention than all the high quality material about sortition that is available. It is a reflection of the elitist nature of mass media today, and highlights the need for fundamental reform of this institution.


17 Responses

  1. “There are lies, lies, damn lies, and statistics.”, Disraeli
    Before we come down too hard on Klein and TIME (Don’t believe the page numbers unless you count them yourself.) pause and take stock. Only a short time ago only a half dozen of us were excited about election-by-lot and its possibilities for solving election-by-ballot criminal activities. At this stage of understanding ALL the publicity we can get by any means can do nothing but further our cause. hdh


  2. > At this stage of understanding ALL the publicity we can get by any means can do nothing but further our cause.

    I completely agree, Harvey.

    Still, I find it hard not to stomp my foot a bit when I consider that Klein and his associates (and of course, his bosses) have a hold over the public’s attention. It’s probably the case that if Klein & co. found it convenient to promote sortition, we would have had most citizens at least aware of the idea in the space of a few months.


  3. To introduce a sortition reform political blog, new location for coach1640280 with improved navigation.



  4. Just in time to support my choice of the most mentionable sortition-related event of 2010: Kofi Akosah-Sarpong quotes both Klein and Olivier: Enriching Decentralization with Kleroterion.


  5. And interesting that this is a piece about Ghana, as their nearest neighbour (Ivory Coast) is a good example to refute Claudio’s claim that universal suffrage is more politically stable than sortition (as it is harder to dispute the outcome of election than allotment). If the draw for an allotted assembly was performed by the UN or some other internationally-respected body it would be difficult for anyone to claim that it was rigged, whereas monitoring that elections are free and fair is quite difficult.


  6. Keith, I think you are completely correct. Claims against the validity of vote counts are made all the time, and, due to the massively distributed and secretive nature of the voting process, those claims are much more difficult to refute than would be claims against a lottery (which can and should be carried out in plain public view). I don’t think that Claudio López-Guerra addressed this issue.


  7. It is invalid to compare something with nothing: i.e., unsuccessful experiments with universal suffrage and enfranchisement lottery non-events. Since the EL has not been tried out, all we can do is compare “on paper” the best realistic version of US with the best realistic version of the EL. Examples such as those Keith alludes to may only show that US poorly designed and implemented can be very unstable. But that says nothing about the relevant comparison. I would just retort that a poorly designed and implemented EL would be even worse in terms of stability.


  8. > It is invalid to compare something with nothing: i.e., unsuccessful experiments with universal suffrage and enfranchisement lottery non-events.

    But the argument is exactly of the same type that you made in your article, i.e., theoretical.

    It seems that your argument relied implicitly on the assumption that the validity of fair elections is self-evident or at least easily verified. If, on the other hand, it is inherently more difficult to verify the validity of elections than to verify the validity of a lottery then your argument against the use of lottery loses its force. Isn’t it so?


  9. The point I was trying to make about Ivory Coast is that political stability is not caused by US — on the contrary a polity is only suited for US iff there is a long tradition of political stability and the rule of law (and lack of tribal and sectarian divisions). By contrast lotteries are universally intuited as “fair” for all the reasons that Barbara Goodwin provides in her book (and cut across sectarian and tribal divisions).

    Of course this is all speculation (although Fishkin’s work should encourage us as to the likely public perceptions of sortive assemblies). But I do think the Ivory Coast crisis is a direct refutation of Claudio’s argument as nobody is suggesting that the elections were poorly designed and implemented. The principal difficulty in Ivory Coast is tribal divisions, and this would be clearly overcome by a sortive approach as the lottery would return members in proportion to the ethnic and tribal composition of the society. This appears to be an endemic problem in Africa, and sortition might well be the only way of overcoming it.

    The studies by Ian O’Flynn of sortition in deeply-divided societies are particularly relevant. One of these is reported in Fishkin’s last book.


  10. I disagree that the design and implementation of elections is not part of the problem in the Ivory Coast crisis. If there had been an independent electoral authority charged with organizing the election and settling disputes, Gbagbo’s claim of fraud would not have been institutionally supported. I think, to the contrary of your claims, that this example actually helps my case: with the right institutions in place, votes can be publicly counted and recounted as necessary to dispel all doubts. No such mechanism was in place in Ivory Coast. I do not wish to say that with the right institutional arrangements the crisis would have been averted. I think in this case Gbagbo would not have stepped down anyway (although I think it would have been even easier for him to play the card that the lottery was rigged). For then again how could one disprove him publicly in a clear, straightforwrad way? Surely, as Keith mentions, fair lotteries are thought to be just in important ways, and I agree. But proving that a lottery is fair is not a simple matter. I stand by my point that, on paper, the best realistic version of US is less vulnerable to being misrepresented as rigged, and hence more stable, than the best realistic version of EL.


  11. > But proving that a lottery is fair is not a simple matter.

    Are you implying that it is a simpler matter to prove that an election is fair? As I wrote above, I think that the logistics of those two mechanisms make it quite clear that the opposite is true.


  12. Leaving aside the fact that both Zimbabwe and Afghanistan have “independent electoral authorities”, corruption in UK elections (widespread fraud over postal voting) was unknown before the establishment of the (independent) Electoral Commission, the judge concluding that current UK postal voting practices “would disgrace a banana republic”.

    Lotteries have three advantages in this context:

    1) Universal intuition that they are fair

    2) Public allotment ceremony is very easy to monitor. Nobody has ever claimed that the draw in the National Lottery is unfair, as they can watch it on TV. This is the case even though enormous prizes are involved. People really do care if they win the lottery.

    3) The sortive process will cut across the tribal groups in a divided society and prevent one ethnic or religious group ruling it over another. Apart from Ivory Coast the other examples that spring to mind are Rwanda, Iraq and Northern Ireland.


  13. […] we did last year (1, 2), I would like to create a post or two summarizing the sortition- and […]


  14. […] in the past years (2012, 2011, 2010), I would like to create a post or two summarizing the sortition- and distribution-by-lot-related […]


  15. […] in the past years (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010), I would like to create a post or two summarizing the sortition- and distribution-by-lot-related […]


  16. […] For previous years’ summaries see: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010. […]


  17. […] For previous years’ summaries see: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010. […]


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