Could Random Selection and Deliberative Democracy Revitalize Politics in the 21st Century?
The practice of using representative samples in decision making in contemporary political regimes creates an opening for re-establishing sortition (making decisions or filling offices by drawing lots). The diversity that sortition adds to political procedures helps reinforce democratic legitimacy. In author Yves Sintomer’s view, we could even introduce sortition into elections.
Here’s an excerpt from this interesting paper by Yves Sintomer…
Having vanished for centuries, sortition now seems to be returning to the world of practical politics.  Recent experience in Iceland illustrates this. After the economic crisis of 2008 when the country nearly went bankrupt, the desire to change the government and the rules of politics was expressed in huge street protests.
The election that was brought forward to April 2009 resulted in a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Greens, and a trial of the former prime minister on charges of negligence took place in March and April 2012. At the same time, in 2009 a Citizens Assembly consisting of 1200 people chosen by drawing lots and a few hundred qualified figures was formed on the initiative of civic associations, to identify the values that the country should be refounded upon.
This experiment was repeated in November 2010, this time with governmental support, with a view to adopting a new constitution. The task of the second Citizens Assembly, following up on the results of the first, was to determine the main principles of the future fundamental law. Soon after, a “Constitutional Council” was elected by the people, consisting of twenty-five “ordinary” citizens. The 523 competing candidates were purely individual: members of parliament were ineligible, and electoral campaigning was legally reduced to a minimum in order to set this event apart from the normal habits of the widely-discredited political class. During the spring and summer of 2011, this Council worked on the draft of a new constitution.
The most notable of the main innovations were a thorough reform of the balance among the different governmental powers, greater transparency in the decision-making process, a major extension of the devices of participatory and direct democracy, and more consideration of environmental issues. Draft articles were posted online as they were being written, and members of the public could comment and make suggestions via the Council’s pages on Facebook, Twitter or Flickr.
The proposed constitution was submitted to Parliament in the summer of 2011 and should be put to a referendum in 2012; this will be the third referendum in the space of a few years, two others having twice prompted the Icelanders to reject (in March 2010 and again in April 2011) governmentally-agreed plans for the payment of the debt resulting from bank failures. Islandic policies have essentially preserved the welfare state, and they have set into motion a reorientation of the economic model.
This experiment is only the cutting edge of hundreds or even thousands of others in which random selection is being used or proposed. Restricting ourselves to French examples: the Europe-Ecology-Greens (EELV) party in Metz has chosen by lot its cantonal and legislative candidates. The Foundation for Political Innovation, close to the UMP, proposes that from now on 10% of municipal councillors be chosen by lot.  The centrist Montaigne Institute suggests using a citizen conference to discuss the financing of the health care system. The Jean Jaurès Foundation, linked to the French Socialist Party, is reflecting on citizen juries.  The ecologist Hulot Foundation is calling for the creation of a third legislative chamber to be chosen by lot,  while the directors of ATTAC, close to the Radical Left, are talking about replacing the Senate with a chamber chosen that way. At the international level, there is growing interest in sortition in political theory.
Why did sortition disappear in modern democracies after the revolutions of the seventeenth century? Why is it coming back today? What are the possible justifications for a significant use of this procedure in contemporary democracies?
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Yves Sintomer, « Could Random Selection and Deliberative Democracy Revitalize Politics in the 21st Century? »,Books & Ideas, 6 June 2012. ISSN : 2114-074X. URL : http://www.booksandideas.net/Could-Random-Selection-and.html