Sortition-related proposals in Belgium and Switzerland

In Belgium, Christie Morreale, a senator, proposes a Peonidisesque scheme where blank votes would be translated into allotted MPs.

In Switzerland “Génération nomination” is starting to collect signatures for putting its sortition-related proposal on the ballot. According to the proposal, 50 out of the 200 members of the Swiss national council would be selected by lot.

A Dutchman offers sortition to the Scots

Dr Jasper Kenter, an ecological ­economist at the Scottish Association for Marine Science and Honorary Fellow of the University of Edinburgh, writes in The Scotsman:

Being Dutch, Westminster politics and ­elections horrify me. […] In Holland, […] [c]oalition agreements mean ­ministers can get on with their jobs without being threatened by reshuffles. They are even expected to have expertise relevant to their post.

Yet, proportional representation faces the same issues as first past the post: policies in the long-term interest of society are hard to sell because of short-term impacts. This is exacerbated by the commercial and political interests of media, with power to sway opinion by triggering fear, anger and envy, deluding people into thinking the extraordinary is more ­common.

For example, air pollution leads to 40,000 deaths a year, far more than terrorism and homicide. Addressing this would require policy overhauls and investment opposed by ­powerful lobbies, so we stick our heads in the sand.

Another example: preserving healthy ecosystems is the most important thing we can do for future generations – but the UK’s environment department has had more severe cuts than any other, with barely anyone noticing.

There is a solution: replace MPs with randomly selected citizens called up for parliamentary duty, a ­system called sortition. Imagine ­parliament being a true reflection of the public, with mothers and teachers thinking through education and childcare, health workers influencing how to run and fund the NHS. MPs would be ­independent of wealthy donors and no need to be popular, so would be better at making difficult decisions.

They would be supported by an office providing independent expertise, like the current Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. By changing a third of MPs at a time, experience could be passed on.

In Scotland, there is an ideal opportunity to try sortition: Holyrood does not have a ­second chamber and, regardless of Indyref2, will receive more powers after Brexit, so arguably needs one.

Sortition as a direct democratic system to appoint a real citizens representation, also called “citizen jury“


According to historical sources our political system was developed AGAINST democracy (sovereignty of the people). An “Electoral Aristocracy” was installed (18 century). Nevertheless, this can be seen as a positive evolution compared with ruling by inheritance.

Later on some “democratic” elements were installed, for instance “free” or so called “democratic” elections with universal suffrage, the equality principle, freedom of speech, freedom of organisation, free press, … but some of them were weakened or eliminated afterwards.

But a “democratic element” is not yet a “democracy”. Freedom of organisation may be a “democratic element”, without it a democracy can not exists, on his own it is no democracy. This way “free elections”, to appoint a governor for instance, can be a democratic element but on his own it is by no means a democracy.
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Constitutional reform: could the Irish approach be useful also for Italy?

More from Improving Democracy:

Constitutional reform in Italy
Italy has incurred a stalemate situation similar to that in which Ireland found itself some time ago relating to a project of constitutional reform. On December 4th 2016 Italians were called to vote on a constitutional reform, previously approved by Parliament, but without the necessary qualified majority, for definitive approval. The electoral turnout at the referendum was quite high in relation to similar prior experiences, recording a vote of over 65% of people eligible to vote. As for the outcome: 40,88% of the voters voted “YES”, while nearly 60% voted “NO”.


Could the Irish approach be a viable solution for Italy?
Here is precisely where the Irish approach, based on the creation of an advisory body of citizens, may come to rescue the opportunity of change and assure alignment with the real thoughts and feelings of the people.

In Ireland, after the economic crisis, citizens developed a sense of mistrust towards the political parties. There has been a strong movement pressing to change parts of the Constitution, which in that country always requires final approval through a referendum in the end. The political parties, on the other hand, were unable to come to an agreement. The Labour Party in its 2011 program for elections included the promotion of a Convention on the Constitution with the intent of involving citizens directly in the process. After the elections, the program was approved by Parliament. The Convention, proudly referring to itself as “a new venture in participative democracy in Ireland” on its own web site, was formed at the end of 2012 and started its work in January 2013. The body was formed by 100 people, 66 citizens randomly selected and broadly representative of the Irish society, 33 parliamentarians, nominated by their respective political parties and an independent chairman skilled in coaching complex assemblies. The Convention had a mandate to debate and elaborate specific proposals on 8 constitutional issues, plus 2 to be autonomously selected by the Convention itself. Parliament was committed to debate the proposals in the following four months and to prepare the consequent bill for approval through referendum.

Full text: 1, 2 (PDF).

Ganesh Sitaraman’s sortition version of the Roman tribunes

Ganesh Sitaraman proposes a sortition version of the tribunes of the Roman Republic in his new book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic.

Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize winning Princeton economist, describes the proposal in his review of the book in the New York Times (March 20, 2017):

Perhaps the least familiar and most intriguing policy proposal that Sitaraman discusses is the idea of reviving the Roman tribunate: 51 citizens would be selected by lot from the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution. They would be able to veto one statute, one executive order and one Supreme Court decision each year; they would be able to call a referendum, and impeach federal officials.

Such a proposal seems fanciful today, but so is campaign finance reform, or greater redistribution. Yet we do well to remember Milton Friedman’s dictum that it takes a crisis to bring real change, so that our job in the meantime is to develop alternatives to existing policies that are ready for when “the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Sitaraman is an associate law professor at Vanderbilt Law School.

A prominent French presidential candidate makes sortition part of his programme

A post by Arturo Iniguez.

L’Avenir en commun (A Shared Future) is the name given to the programme of La France insoumise (France Uprising) and its candidate for the May 2017 French presidential election, Jean-Luc Melenchon. The programme is arranged into 7 parts. The first one, under the tag-line L’urgence démocratique (The democratic urgency), is called La 6eme République, in reference to a new Constitution that would replace the current one, the Fifth, instigated by Charles de Gaulle in 1958. If elected president, Melenchon has promised to convene a constitutional convention and prematurely end his five-year mandate as soon as the new constitution is adopted. Thus, the very first measure in the programme is Réunir une Assemblée constituante (Summon a Constituent Assembly).

Each individual measure is developed in a separate booklet, forming a whole collection. Number 28 of the series, under the title Changer de République pour faire place au peuple (Reform the Republic to create a place for the people), explains how the members of the constitutional convention would be designated. The proposal is to combine election and sortition. In which proportion? That is left to the people themselves. At the poll, each citizen can either vote for a candidate or express his or her personal preference for sortition. The percentage of options for sortition will determine the share of seats to be sorted.

This is a clever way to avoid one of the main sources of resistance to any future attempts to introduce sortition: the opposition of those who are not interested in being sorted, will immediately resign in the event of being chosen by the lot, and are generally happy with the aristocratic setting of voting for professional politicians. These people will see any amount of power given to a purely sorted body as power directly detracted from them. Such a change will be unfair to them (the status quo is of course unfair to all those who do not vote).
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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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