Cutting through the Brexit cacophony

In April 2016 — before the Brexit referendum — I posted an article on Open Democracy calling for a deliberative alternative based around a citizen’s jury. The UCL Constitution Unit has now adopted a similar approach to deciding what form Brexit should take, as reported by James Blitz in the Financial Times:

The Constitution Unit at University College London has tried to fill this gap. Together with the think-tank UK in a Changing Europe, it recently brought together a “Citizens Assembly” of 50 voters. The group reflected a careful cross section of how people voted at the referendum (25 voted leave, 22 voted remain and three did not vote). The group spent two weekends listening to, and taking part in, a balanced debate on Brexit with the involvement of political speakers, academics and other experts. They were then asked to decide how Brexit should proceed in four votes on specific aspects of the negotiation.

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Podemos adopts sortition in its Valencia region branch

A post by Tomas Mancebo. English translation by Pablo Segundo.

Internal elections were held at the end of May 2017 in the Valencian Community branch of the Spanish party Podemos. The alliance called “A Tide to Deepen Change” (Una marea per aprofundir el canvi / Una Marea para Profundizar el Cambio) composed of three inner groups: Democratic Deepening (Profundización Democrática), Valencian Tide (Marea Valenciana), and Deepen the Change (Aprofundir el Canvi), won the General Secretary post for Antonio Estañ, and set the branch’s new Organizational Statutes.

The new organizational model introduces more internal democracy in this regional branch: new participation mechanisms, preferential voting methods, and sortition for the selection of members of key directorial boards, committees and assemblies. These organizational innovations were pushed for by the group “Democratic Deepening” (Profundización Democrática), that has been championing new organizational and democratic mechanisms as the key to real change since the founding of the Podemos Party.

Salvador Mestre, co-founder of “Democratic Deepening” had a key role in securing the alliance between the three groups. He explains:

“The goal of ‘Deepening Democracy’ has always been to couple organizational efficiency with the integration of the different areas, sectors and spaces inside and outside the Party, as we understand this is a strong need for a new party like Podemos. The only option is to push for innovation. We seek to integrate the plurality and diversity of the 15M Plazas [the Spanish spontaneous political street assemblies that exploded in 2011], their transversality and abundance of ideas, inside a flexible and multi-purposed structure, permeable to the collaborative and creative energy of activists, supporters and social movements. It’s funny how part of this innovation is based in the age old mechanism of sortition, but quite probably Van Reybouck is right when he affirms that sortition is the only chance of medium-term survival for our political systems called ‘democratic’ in spite of their representative character, survival that has to be a renewal and a true evolution towards real democracy. In the 15M Plazas we cried for ‘Real Democracy NOW!’ and it is evident that sortition must be an important answer to that call.”

“During the formation of the alliance sortition had to be explained, defended and motivated. It was accepted as a superb method to integrate the party bases within the executive party decisions, and among other measures we agreed for a significative part of the Directorial Board to be drawn by lot.”
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El partido político Podemos-Comunidad Valenciana introduce el sorteo en su organización

A post by Tomás Mancebo. An English version is here.

En la tercera semana del pasado mes de mayo, se celebraron elecciones internas en Podemos de la Comunidad Valenciana (CV). Una alianza de tres corrientes denominada Una marea per aprofundir el canvi (Profundización Democrática, Marea Valenciana y Aprofundir el Canvi), consiguió triunfar al salir elegidos tanto su candidato a la Secretaría General, Antonio Estañ, como su modelo de organización interna para el partido en esta región. El nuevo modelo organizativo introduce más democracia interna en el partido, sobre todo por la influencia ejercida en la coalición por el grupo «Profundización Democrática», que desde el principio de la constitución de Podemos como partido político apostó por propuestas innovadoras. Se refuerzan los mecanismos de participación, se proponen sistemas de votación preferencial y, sobre todo, se prescribe el sorteo profusamente para designar miembros de varios órganos y espacios.

Salvador Mestre, co-fundador de «Profundización Democrática», ha desempeñado un papel fundamental en el proceso de confluencia con las otras dos corrientes internas Transcribimos unas declaraciones de Mestre cuando contactamos con él: “el objetivo de «Profundización Democrática» siempre ha sido aunar la eficacia organizativa con la integración de todos los espacios, ámbitos y sectores tanto internos como externos, pues entendemos que esta debe ser la aspiración de una organización política nueva como Podemos. Eso nos lleva necesariamente a una exigencia de innovación. La idea que nos guía es integrar la pluralidad y diversidad de las plazas del 15M, su transversalidad y riqueza de ideas, dentro de una estructura versátil y flexible, permeable a toda la energía colaborativa y propositiva de la militancia, de los simpatizantes y de los movimientos sociales. Es curioso que, como parte de esa innovación, echemos mano de un recurso tan antiguo como el sorteo, pero la realidad es que quizá Van Reybouck tenga razón cuando sostiene que el sorteo es la única posibilidad de supervivencia a medio plazo de los sistemas políticos que han venido llamándose democráticos a pesar de su cariz tan representativo. No solo de supervivencia, sino de renovación y de evolución realmente democrática. En las plazas del 15M pedíamos “Democracia Real Ya” y es evidente que el sorteo debe ser parte importante de la respuesta a ese clamor.
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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:

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 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.


See also:

Strictly Eating Chances: You can’t eat chances? Oh yes you can!

I say this despite David Wasserman’s snide comment on the claims made by us lottery enthusiasts. We would say that where there are more qualified applicants than places available, a lottery’s the thing. Some will then win a place — “eat”— but everyone will benefit by having had the chance of winning.

But what is the value of a chance when you win nothing? Rationally we should conclude that the value of nothing is zilch, zero, nada.

In another swipe at advocates of lotteries for sharing Wasserman comments:

if it makes sense to treat an expectation as a good, it also makes sense to ask whether the value of that good increases the longer it is held by the recipient.

It’s nice to see a bit of sarcasm from a philosopher whose main concern is medical ethics!

Instead, I’d like to take up Wasserman’s challenge, and propose that your ‘expectation’ — your ticket to the lottery — can indeed be made more valuable by spinning out the process.

Take for example the way the TV hit show Strictly Come Dancing (in the US it’s called Dancing With the Stars) operates. They start with a dozen or so stars. Each week they dance competitively, and by a complex process one star is eliminated. Over the next weeks the process is repeated, one ‘loser’ every week until there are three left. It is then decided by a Grand Finale.

I take it as axiomatic the producers know how to give the public good entertainment value. That’s show business!
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The allotted Irish Citizens’ Assembly sends its recommendations to the Oireachtas


The Citizens’ Assembly (Irish: An Tionól Saoránach) is a citizens’ assembly established in Ireland in 2016 to consider several political questions: abortion, fixed term parliaments, referendums, population ageing, and climate change. It will produce reports to be considered by the Oireachtas (parliament).


On 26 July 2016, Mary Laffoy, a judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland, was chosen by the government as chairperson of the assembly.

The 99 other members are “citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society”. As with the 66 citizen members of the Constitutional Convention, these 99 plus 99 substitutes were selected by an opinion polling company; Red C won the tender and began selection at the start of September. The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2016 was passed to enable the electoral register to be used in this process. Media were asked not to photograph the citizen members before the inaugural Assembly meeting. By the 27 November 2016 meeting, 11 of the 99 had been replaced by substitutes.

The Irish Post:

THE Irish Citizen’s Assembly has voted overwhelmingly in favour of abortion in a landslide vote.


The citizens involved in the vote had attended five two-day meetings since November 2016 and had heard from a series of legal and medical professionals.
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Notes on McGill Sortition Workshop

Here are some brief notes on a workshop on sortition held at McGill University.

“Representation, Bicameralism, and Sortition: With Application to the Canadian Senate”

McGill Sortition Workshop: Randomly Selecting the Canadian Senate

I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating one-day workshop on sortition and replacing the unelected Canadian Senate with a randomly selected Citizen Assembly that was held on December 9, 2016, at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Peter Stone (Political Science, Trinity College Dublin), Alex Guerrero (Philosophy, Rutgers), and Arash Abizadeh (Political Science, McGill) each presented papers on sortition in separate sessions.

In advance of the workshop, Abizadeh did a radio interview (at 21:10) on Ottawa Today with Mark Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe seemed very receptive to the idea of replacing the Canadian Senate with a randomly selected Citizen Assembly. Abizadeh also published an article in the Montreal Gazette in advance of the event.

This event was a timely opportunity to inject sortition theory and practice into current discussion of reforming the unelected Canadian Senate. Canadian Senator Paul Massicotte participated in the public forum and wrote a diatribe—“A randomly selected Canadian Senate would be a disaster”—against sortition following the workshop. Yoram Gat in his post on this insightfully commented on how exceptional such a response is: “It is an indication of the precarious position of the Canadian Senate with its non-electoral appointment procedure that the Senator feels that the proposal to appoint the Senate using sortition requires a refutation. It is a feeling that, as far as I am aware, no elected member of parliament has ever shared in modern times.”
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