Sortition in Switzerland

The Swiss news website 24heures has a story about sortition in Switzerland. (Original in French, my translation, corrections welcome.)

And if parliament members were allotted?

Democracy A seminar examines the use of sortition in Switzerland, which some citizens want to implement.

By Caroline Zuercher, 25.10.2017

Antoine Chollet, research professor at UNIL. Photo: Marius Affolter

Allotment is useful not only for selecting the winners in lotteries. A group of citizens, Generation Nomination, wants to use it for selecting our people’s representatives in Berne. In time, they place to launch a initiative to this effect. The mechanism is far from being new having already been used in ancient Greece. An international seminar, on Friday and Saturday at the university of Lausanne is examining exactly these experiences in Switzerland and in Europe.

Sortition has been used in various contexts. And it has not always been synonymous with democracy. Antoine Chollet, teaching assistant in the University of Lausanne, gives and example. In the 18th century Berne used it to name bailiffs and other magistrates, but only the members of noble families participated in the allotment. The goal was therefore about all to share power among the powerful.

Switzerland had more democratic experiences as well. Studies supported by the National Swiss fund for scientific research examined cases in Schwytz and in Glaris. “There, the people demanded allotment in order to reduce the corruption of the elites and to enhance the circle of powerful families”, explains the researcher. In Glaris at the end of the 18 century, for example, the deputies were for allotted among the entire body of citizens. With limited success: “Our research shows that it was transformed into a form of lottery. Those who were selected could resell their post: that was the great prize!”
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Ismael Serageldin: Transparency and Trust in Trying Times

Ismael Serageldin is the Director of the Library of Alexandria, and one of the most well-connected people in the world. In September he delivered a lecture in Latvia (where he was receiving his 38th honorary doctorate) titled “Transparency and Trust in Trying Times” in which he proposes allotting the legislature (PDF). Serageldin developed his enthusiasm for sortition reform after reading David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections: The Case for Democracy and Terrill Bouricius’s paper “Democracy Through Multi-Body Sortition: Athenian Lessons for the Modern Day”. This lecture discusses a range of topics revolving around the deficit of democracy, and the portion about his proposal for a legislature through sortition begins on page 18.

Extract:

We could try to salvage representative democracy – at least for the legislative branch – by adopting a system of sortition.

The problems we see with legislative or parliamentary elections – a backbone of parliamentary representative democracy – can be summed up as:

  • The polarization that leads to paralysis or blockage, as happens in the US congress and as seen in Belgium staying over 500 days without a government.
  • The interference of money in the electoral process which leads to undue influence of the rich, resulting in a generalized feeling of the voters not trusting the parliamentarians or congressmen that they elected.
  • The gerrymandering of individual districts to suit particular interests with a very large preponderance of particular parties wining particular seats
  • The disparity between the shares that different parties get of the actual votes cast and the shares of the seats taken in the parliament
  • The enormous power of incumbency that results in individual deputies being almost invulnerable, with probability of reelection in certain districts exceeding 95%.

Sortition would replace conventional elections. The kind of elections that we have come to take as a given, with political parties vying for power, and entrenched political incumbents getting reelected and a feeling among the public that the elected parliament still does not really represent them, and that in reality things are governed by the elite because money and politics have become too intertwined.

Sortition can respond – at least partially – to these challenges to representative democracy.

Detoxing democracy: Brexit and the considered will of the British people

Nicholas Gruen is an economist, entrepreneur and commentator who has been described by former Australian member of the House of Representatives Lindsay James Tanner as “Australia’s foremost public intellectual”.

On Nov. 6th, Gruen will be giving a talk at King’s College London titled “Detoxing democracy: Brexit and the considered will of the British people”.

Abstract:

Though material conditions played their part, the degradation of politics now so evident in the shock and awe of Brexit and Trump also reflect the way in which elections orient politics around political combat, rather than deliberation and problem solving. Yet Britain could use the ancient Athenian idea of selection by lot – choosing a cross-section of the public to deliberate together to complement elections – to turn its slow-motion crisis into the rebirth of democracy, moving it from government according to the will of the people, and towards the richer, safer notion of government according to the considered will of the people.

An outline of the argument: Detoxing Brexit by detoxing democracy.

Britain’s governing class is now engineering a tragedy that arose from a piece of political improvisation gone horribly wrong. Yet there’s a principled way of handling the situation.
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Interview with John Gastil on Legislature by Lot

3.3 Legislature by Lot with Professor John Gastil

Above is the link to a podcast interview by Real Democracy Now! John Gastil is a Professor in the Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science at the Pennsylvania State University as well as a Senior Scholar in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. He studies political deliberation and group decision making across a range of contexts.

In September 2017 John and Erik Olin Wright, as part of the Real Utopias project, held a three-day workshop called Legislature by Lot. Participants included several contributors to this  site, Equality by Lot.  John was interviewed shortly after this workshop to learn more about what was discussed.

John described this workshop as ‘a deliberation about deliberation’.

John spoke about

  • the origins of the Legislature by Lot workshop [1:32]
  • the different ways to implement sortition (random selection) [3:54]
  • some of the arguments in favour of a legislature selected by lot [5:44]
  • different models of sortition [7:40]
  • responding to criticisms of legislature by lot [10:11]
  • how to design an oversight body to support a legislature selected by lot [14:10]
  • the prospect of institutional change and transition strategies [18:34]
  • moving the agenda of using sortition forward [23:43]
  • how much work is happening around the world to test and promote the use of sortition [28:35]
  • what representation and accountability means for bodies selected by sortition [30:29]
  • deliberation, consensus, contention and voting [34:35 and 38:50]
  • what the workshop agreed on [43:18]
  • what might happen after the workshop: building links between researchers and practitioners [45:34]
  • responses to critiques of empowered mini-publics [49:35]
  • when the book arising from the workshop will be published [53:07]

The other point of view of the debate at La Croix

The French newspaper La Croix has recently published two pieces under the title “Of what use is the senate?”. A translation of one of those pieces is here. Below is a translation of the opposing view.

Jean-Philippe Derosier: “The senate is in the DNA of our institutions”

Jean-Philippe Derosier is a professor of public law at Lille 2 university and the author of the blog “The constitution decoded”.

Personally, I do not dispute the utility of the senate, even if some changes could surely be considered. There are three reasons for the utility of a second chamber. First of all, a logical reason. The parliament represents the nation, and the nation is the people but also something else. The people are represented by the assembly and other thing, in our system, is the regions (territories). In countries which made the choice of bicameralism, this other thing can be different, for example in England the history of the British nobility is incarnated in the House of Lords, or the civil society in Ireland.

The second reason is biological: there are always more ideas in two heads than in one and the second chamber completes the role of the first through a permanent dialog instituted between the two assemblies.
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Loïc Blondiaux on a citizen senate


A France Insoumise rally at the Place de la République in Paris, July 3rd 2017, Thomas Samson/AFP

La Croix has a short interview with Loïc Blondiaux on the idea of a “citizen senate”. Original in French here. My translation, corrections welcome.

What could a citizen senate look like?

Compiled by Béatrice Bouniol, Sept. 22nd, 2017

On the eve of the senate elections, Loïc Blondiaux, professor of political science specializing in participative democracy, discusses the idea of citizen senate and the questions it raises.

La Croix: Why does this idea of a “citizen senate” come up in political debates?

Loïc Blondiaux: The idea of a citizen senate indicates two major developments. First, the return to consciousness of the idea of sortition, which was suppressed for centuries. More and more political players and thinkers are considering the possibility of using it in different ways: citizen juries in a more-or-less ad-hoc setting, citizen assemblies aimed toward an institution change or a new sortition-based institution. Secondly, we witness today an increase in proposals that aim to modify the workings of government bodies, to open them more toward civil society and toward discussion with citizens.
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Ranciere: What times are we living in?, part 3 of 3

What to save from the drifting French political system? The philosopher Jacques Ranciere was the guest of Aude Lancelin in “The war of ideas” of June 20th, 2017. Here is the transcript of this interview. Parts 1 and 2 of the translation are here and here. [My translation, corrections welcome. -YG]

05. The question today is that of rethinking forms of organization, ways of being together for the long term, outside of the electoral forces.

Aude Lancelin: Your book is also a severe blow to those who today are pinning their hopes on the famous cortège de tête: the group of young people who clash with the police after the demonstrations. You have some ironic words on this subject. For you it is primarily a varnish of radicality which is applied to quite traditional demonstrations. The political meaning of all that and its future are not at all assured in your eyes. Do I misinterpret your thinking?

Jacques Ranciere: First thing: the cortège de tête is not simply the professional revolutionaries who think that it is necessary to radicalize the struggle and who radicalize the struggle by breaking shop windows. There are also people who think that breaking windows is the time of assembly of people who come from different horizons, who come from the political struggle or who come from delinquency in the suburbs, and who suddenly discover themselves. That is a way of gathering people that is classic anarchist or revolutionary politics, and suddenly the people that the movement appeals to and who are involved, who arrive with their own actions, their own revolt or their own ways, are coming first from the world of delinquency rather than from the world of politics. The cortège de tête are not simply people with a specific strategy. Another thing that I am trying to say is that the violent actions of the cortège de tête are also symbolic and not any more strategic in fact than the assemblies of the Nuit debout. Because, in fact, what is it that they are really doing? They take aim at symbolic targets; an ATM, a shop window, a nice car… But that is not at all a strategic action. There is this idea that it is necessary to radicalize, to create an irreversible situation. In my experience, that is not irreversible. It is not that some actions create an irreversible situation. I don’t think that existing conditions create a great realignment. Basically, the question is knowing how to manage this interaction between gathering the greatest number and striking the enemy. But what does “striking the enemy” mean? I don’t really know. I think that in the so-called “radical” thinking, there is always a double logic. On the one hand, the logic of confrontation (“we are going to confront them and it is through the confrontation that we rattle the enemy”) and at the same time a logic of desertion (“if we secede the system will collapse”). In the texts of the Comité invisible there is always this double logic. I think that neither of those two logics is really proven. But I am not trying to give lessons, I am just responding to the questions.
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