The Sortition Foundation: Doing Democracy Differently

In our search for alternatives to a broken official politics, we're come across The Sortition Foundation - who are pushing a very old form of democracy (a random selection of citizens, who are then richly informed on the issues at hand, and able to deliberate and decide) as a viable alternative. Here's their blurb:

Sortition is the use of random selection to populate assemblies or fill political positions. An assembly that uses sortition would be composed of people just like you and me: it would be a representative random sample of people, making decisions in an informed, fair and deliberative setting.

Maybe it would look like this: 


The example above is from AmericaSpeaks (now defunct) and uses networked, facilitated small table deliberation to make decisions. Each table discusses proposals, with a facilitator making sure no one dominates and everyone gets his or her say, and a note-taker typing comments and decisions into a computer. A "theme team" can see what every table is discussing and summarises the output, which is then presented to the entire assembly, who have individual voting keypads to prioritise results. In this way the assembly can come to large group decisions.

Stratified random sampling enures that participants accurately reflect the community they are drawn from, unlike open meetings where often only socially privileged or more vocal people attend and dominate discussions. Stratified random sampling ensures that half the participants are women and half men, with proportional representation for the young and old, and across all geographical areas and educational levels.

If this assembly formed a legislative parliament, then every year a part of the assembly (say, one fifth) would be replaced with people randomly selected from the electoral roll, ensuring the assembly remained representative of the general populace. These representatives would be paid as politicians are paid now, and would serve one single term in office of five years.

Sortition has a long history, going back at least to Ancient Athens, where selection by lot (from among all free, male citizens) was the principal way courts and councils were filled. For hundreds of years it was considered a fundamental aspect of democracy; it wasn't until long after the French and American revolutions, as universal suffrage slowly became widespread, that the term "democracy" was re-christened to mean electoral democracy.

But now it's time to reclaim democracy and demand real democracy now!

The foundation's blog notes that sortition has recently been proposed as the means of selecting for a Citizens' Assembly by the Scottish think-and-do-tank Common Weal (a link to the paper is here, which was co-authored by the Sortition Foundation's Dr Brett Hennig, along with a news story).