2016 review – sortition-related events

This is a review of notable sortition-related events of the year 2016.

Paul Lucardie wrote to note that sortition has been gaining some momentum in the Netherlands with a proposal from a group of mayors to appoint municipal councils members by lot, a proposal that received some media attention. Paul also reports that the Groningen municipal government is set to have an experiment in 2017 in which a partly allotted body will be granted some limited decision making power in the municipality. Paul and some other academics will be monitoring the experiment.

Going over last year’s posts on Equality-by-Lot, I note the following:

Sortition continues its movement toward the center of the political stage in French-speaking Europe.
The most notable developments this year occurred in France, where two prominent candidates for the leadership of the socialist party made separate proposals for introducing allotted bodies into the French system in a way that would potentially give those bodies significant independent power. Allotment was also used to select delegates for a convention of a Left-wing party. More modest steps were taken elsewhere on the continent: in Switzerland and, as Paul mentions, in the Netherlands.

To a much lesser extent sortition is making gains in the English speaking world. In Ireland, the government expressed an intent to convene allotted citizen assemblies to review various issues. In Australia, allotted bodies were convened to handle corruption in local government, and to consider a nuclear dump in SA. David Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections was published in English and received some attention. In Canada and the UK sortition was discussed by academics. In the US, sortition was mentioned in a workshop of the APSA.

Sortition’s gains are fueled by the ongoing delegitimization and destabilization of the electoral system throughout the Western world. The two outstanding electoral events of 2016 – the Brexit vote and the election of Trump – are both expressions of a rejection of the electorally-generated establishment and status-quo. For the first time, the U.S. presidential elections featured major party candidates who both had negative net favorability ratings. A study reported that citizens all over the Western world – and in particular, rich citizens – are losing their faith in the electoral system and mainstream political scientists re-discover that electoral government is inherently non-responsive. Elites’ frustration with the electorate is manifesting itself in a revival of openly anti-democratic ideas. Van Reybrouck and others offer sortition as an alternative: a democratic mechanism that will furnish the elites with the outcomes they desire.

Lawson and Jenke: The solution to the ills of citizen juries is more citizen juries

Emma Lawson and Emily Jenke, CEOs of democracyCo which ran the citizens’ jury on nuclear waste storage in South Australia, write in The Mandarin (full article accessible here):

The nuclear waste storage facility citizens’ jury of 350 people — which we convened — recently returned a verdict that didn’t neatly advance the government’s agenda. Some have since argued that citizens’ juries don’t offer a useful approach to democratic decision-making. After all, the jury voted down the government’s proposal that a nuclear waste storage facility be hosted in SA. It is widely understood that the government wanted further consideration of this issue.

However, after six days of formal deliberation and countless additional hours of reading and analysis, a large portion of the jury (66%) found that this was not a proposal the state should pursue.

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The Canadian Citizens’ Panel on Pharmacare Reports

A Citizens Panel on Pharmacare was held in Canada. From its webpage:

In October 2016, we invited 35 randomly selected Canadians to meet in Ottawa to consider whether there are better models that can improve access to prescription drugs.

Over five days, this group heard from a range of experts, examined different options, and, together, developed a clear set of recommendations for Canada’s health ministers and policy makers.

The panel’s report is here.

Note that although it says the 35 citizens are randomly selected, if you read further you can see that what they actually mean is that they were randomly selected from people who had volunteered to be on the panel. Some of the CBC news coverage of the report:

The panel’s research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. A committee of clinicians, senior public servants and health researchers from across Canada oversaw the process.

[Emily] Dukeshire [of Calgary, one of the citizen panelists,] said she was impressed with the process. Panelists were randomly selected from about 1,000 representative people who had volunteered to take part in the process to advise policy-makers on drug coverage for Canadians.

“This whole process was really amazing that we were all so different and from all across the country, and yet we went through this process together and we were able to come up with core values that we all believed. We were able to define some issues and then come up with some solutions together,” Dukeshire said.

Other speakers included doctors, nurses, pharmacists, brand name and generic manufacturers, insurers, retailers, patients, public agencies, academics and former policy-makers.

Belgiorno-Nettis: “[The government] has stopped listening”

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, the founder of newDemocracy Foundation, which designed and oversaw the nuclear dump citizen jury process for the South Australian government, has an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in the aftermath of the jury’s decision to reject the proposed dump. Belgiorno-Nettis softly criticizes SA Premier Jay Weatherill’s newly-announced intention to have a referendum on the dump:

From the time the royal commission report was handed down earlier this year, the South Australian government has been trying to listen, very carefully, to its community.

But now it has stopped listening, even after the citizen jury concluded their deliberations. A referendum has now been floated as a way to finally determine the question; never mind the most recent lessons from the Brexit experience. The jury tried to find common ground. A referendum won’t.

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Will the Australian citizen jury process survive the nuclear dump decision?

The SA jury on the nuclear dump proposal has handed out its report eliciting significant press coverage and a flurry of reactions. The Online Opinion reports:

Where to now, for Premier Weatherill’s nuclear dream?

On November 6th, to the surprise of all, South Australia’s Nuclear Citizens Jury came up with a report that overwhelmingly rejected the government’s plan for importing and storing high level nuclear waste. Over four days of witness hearings, and deliberations, the 350 members of the jury were tasked with producing an answer to this question:

Under what circumstances, if any, could South Australia pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries?

The jury’s answer:

Under no circumstances should South Australia pursue opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries for reasons of consent, economics, trust and safety.

But while the Online Opinion is worried about nuclear dreams, another dream is just as much in jeopardy: the dream of Citizen Juries. It seems very likely that Weatherill has promoted the CJ idea because he believed it would be useful for his political agenda, of which the nuclear dump was a part. It seems very likely that those who offered Weatherill the idea, some of whom got to run the process, implied that this would indeed be the case. It also seems likely that other elected politicians have been watching this process with some interest in order to determine to what extent CJs could be used as a tool in their own political box.

In the wake of this outcome, the academics and the political operatives and entrepreneurs would have to go back to the drawing board. They will have to work hard to explain to the politicians how they will re-engineer CJs to guarantee that such unwelcome outcomes will not re-occur.

“A little bit manipulated”

The Adelaide news website InDaily has a report by Bension Siebert about discontent in the ranks of South Australia’s citizens’ jury on nuclear waste storage:

Some members of the 350-person jury have told InDaily they voted for a group of witnesses to present information about nuclear waste storage but the facilitator of the process, DemocracyCo, subsequently invited additional witnesses without explicit jury consent.

DemocracyCo concedes it did add further witnesses after a voting process, but says that is “standard practise” in citizens’ juries.

Juror Brett Aylen, an architect, told InDaily: “I do feel like I’m being a little bit manipulated by the process.” He said DemocracyCo facilitators were surprised by the jury’s witness selections and wanted to “balance it up by adding in some of the more pro-nuclear witnesses”. “They seemed a bit surprised at our selections,” he said. “If they had have declared that position in advance [that more witnesses may be added] it would have been more acceptable.”

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Graham Smith: The problem with politicians and democracy…

I would complete the headline of Alex Sakalis’s interview with Graham Smith on openDemocracy with “… is that they are mutually exclusive” (at least if by “politicians” it is meant “elected politicians”). Smith, however, strikes a more tentative note:

Citizens’ priorities are not necessarily the same as those of their political representatives. […] What is clear is that citizens are willing and able to deliberate on complex and contested political issues. The question is whether they will be listened to by local and national political leaders. The evidence is not promising.
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