I am new to this forum, and new to the study of sortition. I’m fascinated by the ideas and debates presented here, somewhat overwhelmed, and trying to formulate an organizing framework that can help me – and hopefully others – make sense of it all.
I’ve read with great interest the recent debates about Keith and Terry’s ideas in “Athenian Democracy Reincarnate,” and the recent exchange between Yoram and Alex about election vs. sortition. Rather than plunging into the debates, I’ve been asking myself “what are the basic questions that must be answered in order to design a democratic legislative system; what are the answers that people are presenting here; and what are the main points of agreement and disagreement?”
So far I can think of four highest-level questions for designing a legislative system:
- What criteria should define a “democratic” (and “good”) legislative system?
- What are the essential activities of the legislative process?
- What actors should carry out each activity, playing what roles?
- What processes should be used for each activity?
(Note: this is assuming a given structure of political units, and that’s a huge design issue in itself, but beyond my scope here)
I’m not going to start with criteria, because I’m afraid that the resulting discussion wouldn’t be useful. Instead, in this post I’m going to start with activities, then (hopefully) actors and roles in my next post, then processes, and then criteria.
What are (or should be) the essential activities of the legislative process?
At the highest level, it seems useful to break it down into three stages, like this:
- Choosing issues to write bills for
- Writing (and revising) bills
- Voting on bills
I suspect that most people would agree about stages 2 and 3, but not necessarily about stage 1. As far as I know, few legislative processes explicitly recognize a stage of choosing issues. Usually, choosing issues happens “implicitly,” as part of writing bills, and as part of choosing which proposed bills are worth voting on. Nevertheless, many decision making processes in other fields have a stage of defining problems and goals before formulating alternatives, and I think it could bring more clarity to the legislative process. And in this forum, Terry has proposed having a stage where a randomly sorted body decides what issues should be addressed by bills.
Choosing issues to write bills for
Of the three stages, this is the one that I feel the least clear about, mainly because it mostly isn’t even recognized. But certainly before choosing which issues to write bills about, someone has to propose a larger set of issues to choose from. I can also think of three other stages that might be helpful, based on ideas from planning processes, but this is highly speculative. The whole sequence of activities could look like this:
- Deciding overall values and goals for the polity
- Choosing and revising categories of issues (in the way that legislatures typically have legislative committees defined around categories of issues)
- Within each category, reviewing current legislation and its outcomes against values and goals
- Proposing “candidate” issues in each category
- Deciding which issues to write bills for
Writing (and refining) bills
Here is a possible way to categorize the activities within the “writing bills” stage:
- Setting objectives and criteria for bills (developing, reviewing, revising, accepting). Like “choosing issues,” this stage may not often be officially recognized in legislative processes, but it’s common in many types of planning and decision making.
- Designing alternative bills (developing, reviewing, revising, accepting). I’m suggesting a distinction between “designing” bills (formulating the ideas), and “writing” them (casting them in the proper legal language). Also, I’m using the term “alternative” bills because I suspect that it’s usually much better to have at least two alternative bills for an issue than to have only one.
- Writing bills (developing, reviewing, revising, accepting)
Voting on bills
It seems to me that the activities within the “voting” stage could usefully be broken down like this:
- Education – decision makers (whoever they are) learn about issues and bills. This is typically not recognized as an explicit stage of the legislative process, but I think it’s critically important, and regularly incorporated in processes like Deliberative Polls and Policy Juries.
- Advocacy – advocates (separate from decision makers) argue the case for and against bills (I learned about the distinction between advocacy and deliberation from Keith and Terry)
- Deliberation – decision makers deliberate together about bills, after hearing the arguments (it would certainly be possible to skip this stage, and have the decision makers vote with no deliberation, and I’ve noticed some debates about that here)
- Voting – decision makers vote on bills
The whole structure would look like this:
Table 1. The stages and activities of lawmaking
|1. Choosing issues to write bills for|
|1.1. Choosing values and goals for the polity|
|1.2. Choosing and revising categories of issues|
|1.3. Reviewing current legislation and its outcomes against values and goals|
|1.4. Proposing “candidate” issues in each category|
|1.5. Deciding which issues to write bills for|
|2. Writing bills|
|2.1. Setting objectives and criteria for bills (developing, reviewing, revising, accepting)|
|2.2. “Designing” alternative bills (developing, reviewing, revising, accepting)|
|2.3. Writing bills (developing, reviewing, revising, accepting)|
|3. Voting on bills|
|3.1. Education about issues and bills (learning by the decision makers)|
|3.2. Advocacy (by advocates, arguing for and against bills)|
|3.3. Deliberation (among decision makers, after hearing arguments)|
|3.4. Voting on bills|
In my next post, I plan to add a second column to this table, laying out possible ideas (mainly from this forum) about which actors might be considered for each activity, and what roles they might play. Possible actors could include, for example, a general-purpose allotted chamber, single purpose allotted panels, an elected legislature, and the entire electorate, etc. And after that, I want to add a third column, with possible processes that could be used for each activity. But before doing that, I would love to hear some comments and ideas from people in this forum. Probably everyone who posts here knows more about sortition, and political systems in general, than I do, and I have a lot to learn from you. Hopefully, by asking lots of clarifying questions, I can not only learn, but contribute something as well.
Filed under: Sortition |