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A Randomly Selected Chamber: Promises and Challenges

The 26-page article, A Randomly Selected Chamber: Promises and Challenges (2017), was written by Pierre-Etienne Vandamme and Antione Verret-Hamelin, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 1. In the article, the authors discuss the lack of confidence people have in contemporary democracy and hypothethize the hopes and challenges of how a randomly selected chamber of representatives would address this. Read an excerpt of the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the introduction…

Contemporary democratic representation can be considered to be in crisis as indicated by the fact that many people express mistrust towards the political class in opinion surveys (Norris, 1999; Rosanvallon, 2006). As a consequence, voter turnout to elections is decreasing in most established democracies (Mair, 2013) and party affiliation and identification have become marginal (Dalton & Wattenberg, 2000). We interpret this as the result of two factors: 1) people do not believe that their representatives act in their best interests (problem of representation); and 2) democratic states have lost a lot of regulating power in a globalized economy characterized by capital mobility (problem of scale). We believe that the problem of scale partly explains the crisis of representation, but not entirely. This paper, however, will limit itself to addressing the problem of representation. Consequently, we acknowledge that the proposed solution might not be enough to tackle the identified crisis.

In this paper, we will use the term representation in two distinct senses: “statistical” or “descriptive” representation means mirroring the diversity of the people; “active” representation means acting in the best interests of the people (Pitkin, 1967; Przeworski, Stokes, & Manin, 1999, p. 2). Part of the contemporary crisis of representation stems from the fact that elected representatives are perceived as not acting in the best interests of the people, precisely because they are descriptively different, because they belong to a particular social class with interests of its own. Therefore, their decisions are believed to be biased in favor of this class. A different worry is that elections tend to make representatives neglect some minorities or issues that do not directly affect the interests of their constituency, such as environmental justice.

In reaction to these worries, scholars and activists press for revitalizing or improving contemporary democracies through innovative practices giving a more important role to lay citizens. In the last decades, a plethora of minipublic experiments – randomly selecting participants – have taken place around the world. These democratic experiments are nonetheless marginal in the political landscape: They are usually isolated, temporary, infrequent, brief and depend on elected governments for their organization and macro-political uptake (Goodin, 2008). What is more, because they take place outside the formal sphere of political decisions and limit participation to a happy few, their recommendations lack democratic legitimacy (Lafont, 2015).

Things might be different with a deliberative citizen assembly permanently integrated to our modern democracies, using random selection alongside traditional electoral mechanisms. Here is our concrete proposal. The second chamber of representatives , whose usefulness is now challenged in several countries, should be filled through a random selection among the entire population of the country enjoying political rights. This chamber would exist alongside the elected first chamber, whose prerogatives would remain untouched. The main reason for limiting the use of sortition to the designation of the second (or additional) chamber2 is that elections have some virtues that sortition lacks, in particular the possibilities of universal participation, consent and contestation (Pourtois, 2016)…

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public DeliberationJournal of Public Deliberation
Spearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol13/iss1/art5/

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