New Scientist letter

I was lucky enough to get the following letter on sortition published in New Scientist, (not quite as I penned it). I’m hoping there will be an exchange of letters, so if anyone wants to comment, there is an opportunity.

Letters should be sent to:

letters@newscientist.com

or:

Letters to the Editor, New Scientist,
110 High Holborn, London WC1V6EU

They like them to be short (250-300 words maximum). Be sure to include your full postal address and telephone number, and a reference (issue, page number, title) to articles. In this case you should include “Campbell Wallace (Letters, 20 May, p53)…” if you comment on my letter; or, if you comment on another letter, the name of the writer and the date of publishing.

As published:

Dave Levitan (22 April, p 24), and Alice Klein (p 25) rightly deplore politicians such as Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull, who disregard scientific evidence in favour of policies chosen for short-term electoral advantage or to further special interests. But the problem is a consequence of the electoral system itself, which repeatedly brings to power people unfit to use it.

Since the 18th century we have assumed that elections are both necessary and sufficient for democracy, and that without them tyranny results. Yet the Greeks of Aristotle’s day knew that elections could lead to oligarchy, not democracy, and that a democratic alternative existed. Athenian democracy selected decision-makers by lot to get a statistically representative sample of the whole community: this is called “sortition“. It is perfectly feasible to design a system with the means to ensure that those chosen are well-informed on each issue that comes before them. Sortition would end the reign of big money, greatly reduce corruption, and would make intelligent decisions, taking into account the interests of all.

It’s high time we abandoned the myth that elections equal democracy.

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New Law Requiring Deliberative Poll Process for Constitutional Amendment in Mongolia

Here is an email from today (May 3, 2017) from James Fishkin to the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) listserv:

Dear all: I am just off the plane from Mongolia where a national Deliberative Poll considered several proposed elements of a constitutional amendment, as now required by law. National random sample of 669 deliberated a whole weekend and produced results, now with the parliament. Here is a pre-event press report and video:

http://news.stanford.edu/2017/05/02/collaboration-stanford-leads-mongolian-parliament-passing-law-public-opinion-polling/

This development raises interesting possibilities for how citizen deliberation can be institutionalized. Hope you will find it of interest. More information will appear on the http://cdd.stanford.edu web site when available.  Best regards to the NCDD list. Jim Fishkin

Of particular interest, the above-linked press release announces:

The Mongolian government recently passed a law requiring that an immersive research method that analyzes public opinion developed by Stanford’s James Fishkin be conducted before its constitution could be amended. According to Fishkin, who devised the process called deliberative polling almost 30 years ago, it marks the first time that a country has incorporated the process into its law. … The measure was supported and passed into law on Feb. 9.

Fishkin.jpg

See also: http://www.news.mn/r/328704.

Le Forme della Politica: Improving Democracy

Roberto Barabino writes the following:

Le Forme della politica” (Forms of Politics, abbr. FDP) is a an Italian non-partisan association whose objective is to analyze the forms, i.e. the rules of the game and the conceptual premises of the political decisions, in order to make proposals and take action for their improvement. The FDP is based on the teachings of the philosopher Giuseppe Polistena, who is also a co-founder of the association. He intends to correct “Aristotle’s mistake” (his statement that “the man is a political animal”), because politics is the pursuit of the common good and this is not a natural attribute of men and women, but requires a difficult effort in order to be achieved.

The FDP was founded in 2012 and up until 2016 focused on the Italian political sphere. The main themes were: the criteria necessary to guarantee the democratic functioning of political parties, the differences between institutional and political leadership, the limits to parliamentary mandates, and the study of foreign experiences regarding direct democracy and participation.

In 2016 we read and discussed David Van Reybroucks’s outstanding book “Against elections” that showed the intrinsic weaknesses of the electoral-representative democracy and proposed a bi-representative democracy in which sortition plays a relevant role. This was the inspiration for creating the international branch of our association, called “Improving Democracy” (ID), and to launch the “International Sortition Project” (ISP), in which we propose that a small proportion (e.g., 10%) of the members of the elective assemblies at various levels (parliament, regional council, town council, etc.) should be reserved for citizens, who will be able to put themselves forward as candidates for such roles without being part of an organized political force.
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Sortition Foundation AGM, book launch, G1000 tour and more!

Spring is coming and the Sortition Foundation has an action-packed March chock-full of events, not least of which is our second Annual General Meeting happening on Wednesday March 15 at 8:30pm at Mildreds Restaurant in Kings Cross. If you plan on coming along please send us an email to let us know.

book launch general

Otherwise if you are in (or near) Brighton, London, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Cambridge then here is an event or two for your calendar:

Brighton: 7pm Monday March 13 @ The Blue Man Cafe: The End of Politicians book launch and G1000 information evening (Facebook event)

CSDLondon: 6pm Tuesday March 14 @ Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster: Reinvigorating democracy through random selection (Facebook event)

London: 7pm Wednesday March 15 @ Housmans Bookshop: The End of Politicians book launch and G1000 information evening (Facebook event)

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G1000 Kick Off in the UK – Cambridge, September 24th

against-elections.jpgIf Brexit proved anything, it proved that what Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels say in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government is true. People do not vote after careful consideration of facts and options, they vote to affirm their membership of various social groups and express agreement with the opinions of those groups, which may have little or nothing to do with the issue at hand being voted upon.

As David Van Reybrouck expressed so eloquently in his article, Why elections are bad for democracy (an extract from his book Against Elections) there is something very wrong with voting and elections and there is a much better way to do democracy: select a representative random sample of ordinary people, provide them with balanced information, and let them deliberate together to find out not what people do think, but what they would think, if given the time and information together with a good deliberative process.

From 11am to 4pm on September 24th, in Cambridge at the Six Bells Pub, a group of volunteers will meet to kick-off the process of bringing Van Reybrouck’s brainchild – a G1000 – to the UK for the first time. The dream is to bring a randomly selected group of 1000 residents together for one day in early 2017, to deliberate and decide together what is best for Cambridge.

But we need your help to make it a reality. We need people to donate their time and their energy to help organise such an event. We will need fundraisers, social media ambassadors, technicians, volunteers, cooks and a whole host of other help. Can you be one of these people? If so please join us, get in touch or come along to the G1000 Kick-off in Cambridge on September 24th.

[This post is from the Sortition Foundation blog: http://www.sortitionfoundation.org/g1000_kick_off_in_the_uk_cambridge_september_24th]

Why Citizen Juries should decide Canada’s Voting Method and Election Rules


A brief by Simon Threlkeld to Canadian House of Commons Electoral Reform Committee, July 26, 2016, briefly explains why election rules, including those setting out the voting method, should be decided by jury, not by politicians or a referendum, and how such a jury approach to democratically deciding election rules could work.

4. Were there no good democratic alternative to politicians deciding the election rules, then perhaps we would be stuck with that very flawed approach. However, there is an excellent and highly democratic way to decide the rules, namely by using citizen juries, or as they can also be called, minipublics or citizens’ assemblies.

(In his brief to the Committee Dennis Pilon has some interesting things to say about referendums and how electoral reform in Canada has long been blocked by the self-interest of politicians. All of the briefs the Committee has posted so far at their website are good, it seems to me. Mine is so far as I know the only one they have received recommending that election rules be decided by citizen juries.)

Sortition merchandise

voting-tess

One way to advocate for sortition is to wear its messages or display them on your bag, phone case, etc. It turns out that there are various websites that make it quite easy nowadays to create merchandise with your favorite designs and distribute it worldwide.

I just created T-shirts with the “voting is the problem” cartoon that I made some time ago. Feel free to buy those shirts for yourself or for your friends and family and wear them proudly to disseminate the sortition message. Please let me know if you would prefer different merchandise with the same design.

Admittedly, this is a very amateurish design, but if Equality-by-Lot readers see fit maybe we can raise some money to fund the creation of professional designs. Also, if readers have designs they made that they would like to contribute, please let me know.

BTW, I make absolutely no money from the sale of those shirts. Things could be set up, however, so that some money from the proceeds of the sales go to the designer and such money can then be used to fund various activities associated with promoting sortition, such as the creation of more and better designs.