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Not to be confused with Démarche.
In governance, sortition (also known as allotment or demarchy) selects officers as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates.
In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was the traditional and primary method for appointing political officials and its use was regarded as a principal characteristic of democracy.
Sortition is commonly used to select prospective jurors in common law-based legal systems and is sometimes used today in forming citizen groups with political advisory power (citizens' juries or citizens' assemblies).
The following is a brief history of sortition's implementation, as it applies specifically to governance, and (when specified) the judiciary system.
Athenian democracy developed in the 6th century BC out of what was then called isonomia (equality of law and political rights). Sortition was then the principal way of achieving this fairness. It was utilized to pick most of the magistrates for their governing committees, and for their juries (typically of 501 men). Aristotle relates equality and democracy:
Democracy arose from the idea that those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. All are alike free, therefore they claim that all are free absolutely... The next is when the democrats, on the grounds that they are all equal, claim equal participation in everything.
It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.
In Athens, "democracy" (literally meaning rule by the people) was in opposition to those supporting a system of oligarchy (rule by a few). Athenian democracy was characterised by being run by the "many" (the ordinary people) who were allotted to the committees which ran government. Thucydides has Pericles make this point in his Funeral Oration: "It is administered by the many instead of the few; that is why it is called a democracy."
- Law court juries are formed through sortition in some countries, such as the United States and United Kingdom.
Citizens' juries or citizens' assemblies have been used to provide input to policy makers. For example, in 2004, a randomly selected group of citizens in British Columbia convened to propose a new electoral system. This Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform was repeated three years later in Ontario's citizens' assembly.
MASS LBP, a Canadian company inspired by the work of the Citizens' Assemblies on Electoral Reform, has pioneered the use of Citizens' Reference Panels for addressing a range of policy issues for public sector clients. The Reference Panels use civic lotteries, a modern form of sortition, to randomly select citizen-representatives from the general public.
Danish Consensus conferences give ordinary citizens a chance to make their voices heard in debates on public policy. The selection of citizens is not perfectly random, but still aims to be representative.
- The South Australian Constitutional Convention was a deliberative opinion poll created to consider changes to the state constitution.
- Private organizations can also use sortition. For example, the Samaritan Ministries health plan sometimes uses a panel of 13 randomly selected members to resolve disputes, which sometimes leads to policy changes.
John Burnheim, in his book Is Democracy Possible?, describes a political system in which many small "citizen's juries" would deliberate and make decisions about public policies. His proposal includes the dissolution of the state and of bureaucracies. The term demarchy he uses was coined by Hayek for a different proposal, unrelated to sortition, and is now sometimes used to refer to any political system in which sortition plays a central role.
- Influenced by Burnheim, Marxist economists Allin Cottrell and Paul Cockshott propose that, to avoid formation of a new social elite in a post-capitalist society, "[t]he various organs of public authority would be controlled by citizens’ committees chosen by lot" or partially chosen by lot.
- L. León coined the word lottocracy for a sortition procedure that is somewhat different from Burnheim's demarchy. While Burnheim ... insists that the random selection be made only from volunteers,, León states: "... that first of all, the job must not be liked".Christopher Frey uses the German term 'Lottokratie' and recommends testing lottocracy in town councils. Lottocracy according to Frey will improve the direct involvement of each citizen and minimize the systematical errors caused by political parties in Europe.
- Anarcho-capitalist writer Terry Hulsey detailed a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to randomize the election of Congressmen and Senators, and indirectly, the President of the United States. The key to its success, in his opinion, is that the critical selection of the initial pool of candidates is left strictly to the states, to avoid litigation regarding "fairness" or perfect randomness.
Ernest Callenbach and Michael Phillips push for random selection of the U.S. House of Representatives in their book A Citizen Legislature. They argue this scheme would ensure fair representation for the people and their interests, an elimination of many realpolitik behaviors, and a reduction in the influence of money and associated corruption, all leading to better legislation.
Étienne Chouard, a French political activist, proposes replacing elections with sortition.
- Select, through sortition, a large legislative body (such as the U.S. Congress) from among the adult population at large. C. L. R. James's 1956 essay "Every Cook Can Govern."
Terry Bouricius, a former Vermont legislator and political scientist, proposes in a journal article "Democracy Through Multi-body Sortition: Athenian Lessons for the Modern Day" how a democracy could function better without elections, through the use of many randomly selected bodies, each with a defined role.
"Accidental Politicians: How Randomly Selected Legislators Can Improve Parliament Efficiency": shows how the introduction of a variable percentage of randomly selected independent legislators in a Parliament can increase the global efficiency of a Legislature, in terms of both number of laws passed and average social welfare obtained (this work is in line with the recent discovery that the adoption of random strategies can improve the efficiency of hierarchical organizations "Peter Principle Revisited: a Computational Study").
- Political scientist Robert A. Dahl suggests in his book Democracy and its critics (p. 340) that an advanced democratic state could form groups which he calls minipopuli. Each group would consist "of perhaps a thousand citizens randomly selected out of the entire demos," and would either set an agenda of issues or deal with a particular major issue. It would "hold hearings, commission research, and engage in debate and discussion." Dahl suggests having the minipopuli as supplementing, rather than replacing, legislative bodies.
- The House of Commons in both Canada and England could employ randomly selected legislators.
- The ratio of legislators decided by election to those decided by the lottery is tied directly to the voter turnout percentage. Every absentee voter is choosing sortition, so, for example, with 60% voter turnout a number of legislators are randomly chosen to make up 40% of the overall parliament. Each election is simultaneously a referendum on electoral and lottery representation.
- The upper house of a parliament might be selected through sortition. Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty proposed this to the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords in the UK in 1999.
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