by Ted Wachtel
Pie In The Sky is David Heekin’s aptly titled BANR blogpost, which raises skeptical concerns that are universal when people first learn about sortition, the practice of choosing legislators and other public officials by lottery, rather than by voting in an election.
- From what population would random selectees will be drawn?
- Would they would be knowledgeable enough?
- Whether lack of knowledge would lead to communication issues and poor coordination.
- Whether the large turnover in each election cycle would lead to a never-ending learning curve.
- Would random selectees be susceptible to bribes and influence peddling?
If you haven’t seen our True Representation blog posts (links below), the various authors address some of David’s questions and also other possibilities, such as first using sortition on a state or local issue before going national.
We will post additional articles with growing evidence that ordinary people can make good decisions on complex questions, under the right conditions. Yet in truth, if someone offered to implement sortition immediately, I would hesitate…unless on a conditional basis: that it provide for ongoing experimentation, evaluation and modification.
In the meantime, we can build models to try different approaches. Stanford University’s James Fishkin has conducted over 100 “Deliberative Polls™” in 28 countries, using hundreds of randomly selected delegates to consider issues ranging from alternative energy use in Texas to closing segregated Roma schools in Bulgaria. Fishkin’s experiments have demonstrated that people diligently study their briefing materials, raise good questions and are willing to change their minds from their original positions.
In short, people rise to the occasion when they think it matters. Funnily, one woman reported to Fishkin that, until her husband participated in a deliberative poll, he never read a newspaper; now he reads three each day.
Fishkin asserts that the issue with our present system is that it is not user-friendly. Many people do not consider it worth their time, because they don’t believe their voice or vote really matters.
The Irish Citizen’s Assembly of 2018 used sortition to select 99 members who met for one weekend per month, for five months, to recommend a policy to replace the Irish Constitution’s total ban on abortion. In that model, the Assembly did not have the final say, Rather, the policy developed by the Assembly was passed on to the Irish legislature, to formalize a law that they had promised would reflect the Assembly’s decisions. That law was ultimately approved by a two-thirds majority in a national referendum.
Lottocracy, an approach developed by Rutgers philosopher, Alexander Guerrero, addresses several of Heekin’s concerns by dividing the responsibility of a general legislature into several specialized legislatures that deal with only one theme — agriculture, education, etc. — making it easier for inexperienced citizens to learn what they need to know for a narrower range of legislation. Each of the 300 representatives in each assembly would serve a 3-year term, with one-third of the representatives leaving each year, and a new one-third entering.
Heekin wants to us to persuade him that sortition could work, and we will try our best. We all need to accept that thoughtful development of new possibilities is worthwhile.
No, it’s not pie in the sky. Rather, it’s pie in the oven — still baking, but not quite ready to eat.