Opportunity for easy online activism

David Grant wrote to draw attention to an online proposition and voting exercise at Slate magazine. Readers are asked to propose pieces of reform for the U.S. constitution and to vote for their favorite proposals.

David wrote a proposal titled “Use sortition, not elections, for a Citizen House“.

Browsing around at random, I found a similar proposal: “Select our representatives by lottery“.

Voting for those proposals is an easy way to highlight the idea of sortition. Registration to the site (free and easy) is needed in order to vote. You can vote more than one proposal.

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20 Responses

  1. Check out this movement in Greece too: http://www.klirosi.org
    The page is in Greek, but with a simple translator you could get the picture…

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  2. Fantastic – a Greek sister site! Are you one of the activists? Can you tell us more about the site and the activity and the people behind it?

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  3. Yes, very encouraging, and the division of function between executive and allotted legislature looks sensible. In fact this would be compatible with the sort of technocratic executive that was briefly in charge in Greece and is still in charge in Italy. Given that the vote was pretty evenly divided in the recent Greek election, would technocratic government and allotted legislature be a more workable (and democratic) solution than the unstable coalitions that we are likely to see for the foreseeable future?

    I’m amused that Google translates allotted MPs as “conscripts”, but I think this — with the National Service implication — is about right.

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  4. I am one of the active members of the Greek movement. A bit of history on this:
    We started off about a year ago as a group of friends trying to figure out how we could survive the situation in Greece.
    When trying to evaluate the causes of the Greek crisis, it was quite obvious to us (as is to most people over here) that most of the blame was with the way Political Parties have been affecting Greek institutions for decades.
    The idea of sortition came to us as an obvious conclusion: If MPs were chosen at random, it would be harder for corporations and banks to corrupt the system centraly, and it would be harder for MPs to corrupt public sector officials. Moreover, if the Parliament was a representative sample of the society, it would effectively evaluate the Goverment. Any Bills that such a Parliament would vote for, would be in sync with the public. Finally, sortition would create incentive to the Goverment to educate people, and people would have an incentive to be educated.
    We got so ecxited over the idea, that we decided to create a Political Party ourselves: “κλήρωση”. So over the next semester we set off to create concencus and gather support of over 200 people (required by the Greek law). The unique feature of the Party was that none of us who were active with the organization of the Party could run for MPs. The Party would act only as a bridge for sending common people to the Perliament. And we had no other adgenda. How could we argue that our MPs would be independent to vote as they wished, and at the same time propose preemptive solutions?
    Anyway, the Greek elections caught up with us sooner than we expected. We were therefore unable to enter the elections, due to the overwhelming costs needed (so much for democracy, I hear you say).
    We now function as a movement (not a Party) and try to organise ourselves better for the future.

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  5. So what are your activities now? How are you publicizing the idea?

    Also I am interested to know how familiar is the idea of sortition to the Greek public. I think that in most Western countries the idea is virtually unheard of and seems quite strange to those who hear it at first. Perhaps the situation is different for Greeks for historical reasons? Are Greeks aware of the reliance of ancient Athens on sortition and of the classical theory equating elections with oligarchy?

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  6. Before the elctions we had the chance to address the public through national television and radio (skai.gr). So I guess that quite a few thousand citizens were exposed to the idea for the first time.
    Now we are in the process of
    1. FInding other political groups that are targeting democratic reforms. A meeting of such groups will take place in central Athens on the 9th of July.
    2. Finding support from “Oppinion Leaders”
    3. Finding support from relevant groups worldwide (such as youselves)
    4. Organizing a conference on democratic reforms within 2012
    If you have any other ideas, we would happily welcome them.

    Regarding the response we get to the sortition idea, it is mixed. Most common people find it interesting. Most “oppinion leaders’ ” first reaction is to laugh at it.

    What you may find interesting is that since 2010, sortition has been integrated in the reform for local goverments in Greece! However, it was done in such a way that the system can still work without it. It still is a first step, and it gave us arguments to further support the idea.

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  7. Can you say more about how sortition is integrated into local government? In Australia, the newDemocracy Foundation has been pushing this approach for introducing people to the idea. They managed to get a suburb of Sydney to delegate its budget authority to a random jury of 30 citizens. you might want to communicate with Iain Walker, the Executive Director of newDemocracy Foundation. he has an interest in internationalizing the movement….their web site is http://www.newdemocracy.com.au/

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  8. > Before the elctions we had the chance to address the public through national television and radio (skai.gr). So I guess that quite a few thousand citizens were exposed to the idea for the first time.

    Do you have recordings and videos of your broadcasts?

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  9. Terry,

    > They managed to get a suburb of Sydney to delegate its budget authority to a random jury of 30 citizens.

    I think you are overstating the case. The jury doesn’t have any real executive power. It merely “sets an agenda” that the elected council then turns into policy.

    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/sydney-news/the-buck-will-stop-with-you-people-power-council/story-e6freuzi-1226305659675

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  10. Recording of one of the interviews of Antonis Kalis at SKAI radio in Greece (and in Greek):

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  11. Regarding the integration of sortition in local government affairs, in Greece too sortition is used to choose a part of some “advisory boards” to set the agenda for the Mayor’s office. Our comments on this can be found here (again in Greek, we will soon make an effort to translate)

    http://www.klirosi.org/?p=445

    BTW, we have already made contact with Iain over the past couple of weeks. The time difference has slowed things down though.

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  12. For your campaign material I was expecting more of a 30-second or 60-second advertisement kind of material than a full interview. I was thinking maybe we could reuse it.

    Are you aware of the Spanish pro-sortition party, Partido Azar? Tomas Mancebo, one of the activists of Partido Azar was suggesting that we develop audio-visual material to promote sortition.

    I tend to agree with your criticism of the form of sortition implemented at the local level (as I understand it from your description). I think it is important not to get trapped into thinking that sortition is itself an objective. It is a tool of democracy, and unless used in an appropriate manner it could easily serve as no more than window dressing for a non-democratic system.

    By the way, you mention Jacqueline de Romilly as having said that sortition and pay-for-service are the two key components of democracy. Do you have a source for this? I was not aware of her writing on the matter of sortition.

    Lastly, if I am not mistaken, the quote you have attributed to Pericles is really a mistranslation by Popper. If I understand correctly, this distinction between making policy and judging it is not in the original of Thucydides. More relevantly, it is a false distinction that supporters of sortition should be rejecting.

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  13. Where is this “false distinction” that you are referring to? Needless to say, I am in agreement with Pericles, Thucydides, Popper and κλήρωση and have argued at some length on the necessity for sortinistas to accept this distinction in order not to contravene democratic norms. Perhaps you could let us have some argumentation as to why we should reject it.

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  14. Fantastic! We are getting into deep waters here… I think that κλήρωση would fully support joint actions. I will see if we can make contact with the Spanish “sortinistas”.
    About the quote of Pericles, you caught me. I was the one that copied it on the site from Popper’s “Open Society and its Enemies” (not from Thucydides). However, it did resemble the essence of the arguments (and argues) we had within κλήρωση. Remember that we started off independently. So we did develop some ideas that until now have not been discussed with other groups internationally.
    From our first meetings there was a consensus that sortition is the only way forward for having a democratic legislative power. It surely is the future of democracy. On the other hand there was also some consensus that the executive power has to have some added “capabilities”, other than political judgement (which is common to everyone more-or-less): management, leadership, intelligence etc. This would probably mean that the “virtuous” would not be able to acquire this kind of power, if we agree on the saying that “the virtuous would never want to exercise power to others”.
    However, if the legislative power is the people (through sortition), they would be able to control and exploit the characteristics of the executive power to their benefit. After all, the executive power is mostly driven by its desire to rule, and it is therefore keen on submitting to the desires of those who can promise that it can keep ruling.
    Take for example any modern State. It does not really matter which party is in office. Their policies are quite similar, and work mainly to the benefit of the Parties’ financial contributors (which are in most cases common). With a Parliament of people, we can assure that the people will not pass legislation that is not to their own benefit, and the executive power would have to follow (if it wants to keep its power).
    You could argue that the characteristics of the executive power are also common to all people, so sortition would do the trick there too. The first version of the Athenian Democracy was more like that. But it didn’t last long. Only 30 years until the system rolled back to Tyrany. After the Tyrants, reforms by Κλεισθένης did not give so much randomness in the selection of executive power.
    Anyway, all these views were formed after a number of discussions we had within κλήρωση. We are open to your thoughts and suggestions. But more than that, we would like to find the things that unite us, and not insist on the rest. We couldn’t afford it.
    Regarding the book by Jacqueline de Romilly, it should be the “Greek Democracy Problems”.

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  15. >With a Parliament of people, we can assure that the people will not pass legislation that is not to their own benefit, and the executive power would have to follow (if it wants to keep its power).

    Exactly. This sort of virtuous cybernetic feedback relationship is well put by Harrington in The Commonwealth of Oceana. He believed that society could be organized in such a way that self-interest and the public good coincided. He gave the example of two girls sharing a cake — if one girl cuts and the other chooses her piece first, the cake will be fairly divided to the satisfaction of both. Harrington would also have agreed with you that “capabilities”, other than political judgement (which is common to everyone more-or-less): management, leadership, intelligence etc. were not evenly distributed. But so long as the final decision is in the hands of a sortition-based parliament, it doesn’t matter that the executive functions are based on “capabilities”.

    To finesse the distinction further, you need to decide whether you want to extend the power to initiate legislative proposals beyond the executive. Is there a case for appointing the executive on administrative merit alone (as is the current Italian government) but opening up the initiation of legislation to either political parties or some kind of direct democratic initiative? In either case, the final judgment would be in the hands of the sortition-based parliament. This would suggest a three-fold model:

    Executive, based on competence
    Advocates, based on partisan elections or direct democracy
    Judgment, based on sortition

    Note that there are two distinct viewpoints on our forum: the moderate one (mixed government) that I am advocating here (which appears to align with the views of κλήρωση), and radical monotheists like Yoram and Terry, who argue that anything other than sortition is undemocratic. Unfortunately the two camps have made no progress in reconciling their views, so I’m heartened to hear of another initiative proposing the moderate viewpoint. A mixed constitution would be better both from a pragmatic and a political theory perspective.

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  16. κλήρωση,

    While I agree with much of what you write, I don’t think that there is a useful distinction between designing policy and judging it, or between legislation and execution.

    In any government activity, professionalism is a tool that can be useful. Therefore, allotted representatives should be able to employ and consult with professionals. They could ask help with writing laws, or with any other activity as they see fit. But the important point is that authority is always with the representatives. They decide when and how to use professional (or any other form of) help. No authority is given to any body that is not representative.

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  17. Yoram,

    An allotted body is only (descriptively) representative in aggregate, and this limits its role to collective functions — i.e. judging and voting. Individual allotted members only represent themselves.

    As for your oddly-worded claim that the distinction between designing and judging; legislating and executing is not “useful” I can only assume that you mean that it does not serve your political agenda. In every other respect the distinctions are entirely robust. I would draw the attention of κλήρωση to my published paper on the “useless” distinction between designing/advocating policy and judging it, which I imagine might resonate with the view of his group:

    http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/SSJ/article/view/3492

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  18. Dear friends,

    I will make sure that this interesting discussion is transferred into the meetings of κλήρωση. Being in line with my previous post here, I see that there is an imperative need for us to find the things that unite us: Greece is deeply into a crisis, with close to 70% of its people under the poverty line. And the main reason for this is the way that our political system has been working for decades (some say that little has changed since 1832, when the Greek state was born). If there is a way out of the crisis, it should be the way of democratic reforms.
    Yoram, I can sense your enthusiasm. Any legitimate political action should have the seal of approval of an institution that truly represents the public (and sortition is the only method for this). We share this view. And we try to achieve this common goal by persuading the people that we should integrate sortition in our political system.
    How exactly do we do that? We do not have a definite answer on this. Some of us say that we should keep our parliamentary system, and have part of the Parliament chosen by lot. This approach is also supported by some Italian scientists (e.g. Alessandro Pluchino). Others prefer a Presidential system with an equivalent House. We also have supporters of Keith’s idea, on a Presidential system, with a Senate coming through elections, and a House given through sortition.
    What is common in all these approaches? We give all these different names to different institutions, when each of them is actually a different “veto player”. Each of them can veto a political action. So (at least as a first step) we all share the view that at least one of the “veto players” should represent the public. I think that this is easier to explain to everyone.
    You may find this approach less democratic than having a single representative house that concentrates all powers. And you are probably right. However, let me remind you that in the initial stages of the Athenian Democracy, the representative house did not have so many powers. This changed over time. If you have faith in the power of sortition, then you should expect that the power of such a representative institution would expand throughout the years. All we need to do is take the first step (you suggested municipal institutions in a previous post; we hope for central government).

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  19. > you suggested municipal institutions in a previous post; we hope for central government

    Actually I prefer starting at a high government level as well. I think starting at a scale that is too low is problematic. Low powered bodies can be easily manipulated by interested parties and their perception by the public can be manipulated as well. That is one of the reasons I am skeptical about experiments such as that of newDemocracy and Fishkin’s “Deliberative Polls” (I don’t know if have heard of those).

    I agree that agreeing on all the details is unnecessary. We should be focusing on the practicalities of promoting sortition.

    Beyond Tomaso’s idea of the producing audio-visual materials (which is a good one, I think), I have two practical ideas. One idea is having a web advertising campaign. I posted an ad on the Google search engine with ads that point to this blog – see here: Advertising campaign.

    We could post a similar ad in Greek pointing at your site. This requires creating a Greek ad and choosing the triggering keywords. I’d be happy to add those to my campaign if you want, or you can create your own advertising account with Google. (So far it turns out to be an expense of a few dollars a month, generating a small amount of traffic.)

    The second idea is creating stickers that can be distributed to the public. Those stickers would have slogans that reflect public disgust with politicians (e.g., “Don’t vote! It only encourages them.”) and a message offering sortition as an alternative and pointing people at a website where more information can be found.

    I have also been writing regularly over the years to various journalists, activists and public figures who may be sympathetic to the idea of sortition, but have yet to find any takers (I’ve gotten a few responses but no real enthusiasm).

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  20. >What is common in all these approaches? We give all these different names to different institutions, when each of them is actually a different “veto player”. Each of them can veto a political action. So (at least as a first step) we all share the view that at least one of the “veto players” should represent the public. I think that this is easier to explain to everyone.

    Absolutely. And if I were a Greek MP or government minister I would endorse such a popular institution, as the vote was so evenly divided between two incompatible positions. This really is an excellent opportunity, so I agree we should focus on what unites us.

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