Whats your thought about Sortition? Aka the random selection of people into position of power?

(Mofosyne) #1

It would be an interesting experiment to adopt such a system in the pirate party if it has not been done so. Most current voting approach is about using elections.

There are different ways this can be tried. E.g. You could use this as a preselection filter? Or as a tiebreaker. etc…

(Peter Fulton) #2

I feel that wiki page doesn’t explain it too well. It gives summaries, but then those summaries don’t make sense to me because of the phrasing.

Does “by lot” mean it’s essentially like drawing names out of a hat, and whoever is drawn, gets that role that the draw was for?

(Mofosyne) #3

“by lot” basically means random selection. So yes it means randomly selected citizens from the citizen roll will be voluntold to fill the role. Much like the jury system.

This is a good overview of how ancient Athens approach this, which in practice mostly practice a hybrid of sort. Where the general assembly is selected by lot and specialist roles like military office done by elections.

Current proposal I’ve heard in Designing Open Democracy so far with some reform groups in Australia and UK is that their proposal doesn’t go all the way to Athenian style democracy, but is a more reformist kind of approach of replacing the senate election with random selection instead. This is in keeping with the principle that the senate is meant to represent the general assent of the population, and thus should be proportional to the population distribution.

Other extra watch:


Citizens’ Democracy; Presentations and Q&A

2 Hour recording of a Designing Open Democracy event by Nicholas Gruen and Hubertus Hofkirchner


(Frew) #4

I like the idea of sortition for governmental scale decision making, although it would probably need to work along side democratically elected representatives as well in some way.

I don’t think it would work for the Pirate Party because we don’t have any way to make people take on the roles assigned them. We rely on a core group of active people to do things and lots of passive members who don’t do much at all. It is the nature of political parties.

(Jesse Hermans) #5

Sortition (aka Citizen Juries) for me has quickly become the greatest form of democracy and decision making of all time, provided it is implemented right and in appropriate circumstances. Though like anything it is obviously not flawless.

(As was said above) in Ancient Greece they only elected generals, whom they needed to be competent. Whereas their government was done by sortition.

Gruen’s idea of having a House of Review done by sortition and the Lower House of government done by some more proportional election based system appeals to me, although it lacks political practicality. Ideally we should be trying to use sortition wherever practical for important decisions. Have it at local council level, use it in planning, bring it into state level and then eventually federal.

(Jesse Hermans) #6

In terms of internal party structure and sortition, I’m not sure how you can work that in. In effect we elect our party offices in the way generals were elected. Whereas all policy decisions are ultimately put to membership vote (direct democracy), and anyone can put policy forward.

So you would need to identify an area which benefits from direct membership input, but isn’t practical to use direct votes I.e used in place where elected representatives would otherwise be used.

(Alex Jago) #7

I think the existing structure in PPAU that could most easily be adapted to sortition is the PDC.

But as Frew said, we don’t have any mechanism to make people do things, so our governance trade offs are naturally skewed towards towards the more common approach of ‘apply to do this if you want to’.

(twisty) #8

How about all second term local councillors be sorted to the house of review?

My drunken thoughts, in no particular order.

  1. No “one-hit wonders”.
  2. No “fuck you” problems.
  3. Policy, planning and management experience
  4. Broad, random coverage of appropriate, previously publicly elected humans.

… should I drink more?

(Mofosyne) #9

Interesting idea @twisty , especially considering that it could be a welcomed break from the intense workload of being a full on party official. This if structured right, won’t require too much time investment from participants, since the cognitive workload is spread over multiple people.

But should it not just include second term councillors? What about those that nominate themselves for official roles? If they don’t get in, perhaps they can optionally join this house of review via random selection to sort between different topic groups?

The incentive is that it provides an official way for them to participate in the party, with the aim of getting extra brownie points when going for the official roles.


Sortition is interesting, but certainly not a panacea.

Generally, it works best when all or at least most candidates are competent, and the task they’re being selected for is well defined. The position of party secretary or party treasurer, for example. As long as all the people who put their hand up are capable then might as well randomly select who does it. Could probably select all party positions this way, and there are arguments both for and against doing so.

When forming a representative government body by sortition it’s a bit different. The task isn’t really well defined at all. Procedure aside, policy can be taken in all sorts of directions, and if you ask a bunch of random people you’ll get all sorts of different answers. If the candidates have to rely on consulting the public then sortition is strictly inferior to election, as sortitioned candidates won’t have information on how the public reacted to policy campaigning. So the only sensible way to get a result that’s more or less consistent with what the public wants is to have enough people selected to form a statistically representative sample.

I’m not an expert on statistics, so I had some fun playing around with a survey sample size calculator. Turns out that for a given confidence level and interval, the number of people you need grows very quickly up to some asymptote that’s independent of the total population size.

At a confidence level of 95% with an error interval of +/-5%, for example:

total pop 100 -> need 80 reps
total pop 500 -> need 217 reps
total pop 1000 -> need 278 reps
total pop 2500 -> need 333 reps
total pop 5000 -> need 357 reps
total pop 10000 -> need 370 reps
total pop 16 million (approx current electoral roll size) -> need 384 reps

On the other hand, if there’s only 76 reps in the Senate like there is now representing the same 16 million, and still assuming a confidence level of 95%, then the interval is +/-11.2% for issues the public is evenly split on. That’s wildly inaccurate.

Based on this, a sortition based upper house does not appear to be practical in Australia. Unless you’re all fine with tripling the size of parliament or thereabouts.

But what’s really interesting is the same reasoning suggests sortition to be a really good idea for USA congress and UK parliament. In the USA they’ve long since reached the point where each representative has too many people they represent to actually meaningfully consult with them, and more reps won’t help since the size of Congress is already nearly 600. They could get quite accurate sortitioned results with the same number of reps. And the UK already has the House of Lords with 794 seats. Again, plenty of room for representative sortitioned results, possibly even including a reduction in size.

(Another result of these stats is that most citizen’s juries are apparently very undersized if the goal is to figure out the opinion of the general public.)

(Peter Fulton) #11

The average elector size of federal electorates is about 105,000, give or take 5,000.
If we halve the elector size per electorate, or maybe cut down to around 40,000, that should then allow the government to have close to enough Reps needed, based on those ratio stats.

Confidence level will be something entirely different in context…

(Mofosyne) #12

Okay, so getting the sample size level is harder with a larger population size. But maybe there are different political problem set that doesn’t require as high of a sample accuracy, but is more about getting a “good enough” answer?

E.g. maybe could this be used as a way to break the current political stalemate in regards to the question about making a proper aboriginal treaty and where to place Australia day?

In those cases, it’s less about getting a perfect confidence level and more about getting average Australians to come to a general consensus and deliberation (in collaboration with the indigenous community). Which would at least be a lower bar to cross culturally compared to the daily runnings of the government like the state budget.

tl;dr: Could this solve the aboriginal treaty question?

Australia Day change of date discussion
(Jesse Hermans) #13

In terms of party positions, I do agree there is limited practical application. A party position/role is generally task/role orientated, not “will of the membership/people” orientated. So a distinction needs to be made between selecting people to fulfill certain responsibilities and calling upon the membership to make decisions, which can either be done directly or deliberatively via sortiton. One should think of sortition as an alternative to direct democracy when it becomes impractical, due to large numbers of uninformed decision makers being inferior to a randomly selected representative group of informed decision makers.

Most of the criticisms you have made against sortition are theoretical. They have been made before in the literature, but in most if not all real world cases (I can provide if required) they have never been an issue:

Define “competence”. Do politicians have some sort of mandated level of competence to legally run for office and be elected?
Generally speaking you only need basic competence (e.g. able to communicate and think) in a citizen’s jury, as the point is participants inform themselves in the deliberation process by consulting with different independent experts etc. The main purpose of sortition is to determine the informed will of the people (democracy) and give people an input and ownership over decision making, whereas election is for selecting the best candidates to perform a given task. In this sense it makes sense for ministers of portfolios to be elected, but not representatives of the will of the people. So for the house of review it absolutely makes sense that this would be determined by sortition, although at federal level this would be a constitutional issue.

This completely misunderstands sortition. The purpose of sortition is not to survey the uninformed public via random selection like some sort of poll - sortition is in direct opposition to polling.
The purpose is to get a bunch of random members from the public together from different backgrounds and experiences to deliberate on the best potential outcome through an informed decision making process. Survey sample sizes are irrelevant in this respect.
The initial views of the original candidates is not what is important, what is important is you have enough (non-special interest) diversity in the room to improve the decision making process, prevent group think when dealing with a specific decision, and stop a game of mates from forming. In the practical case studies of deliberative citizens juries, a lot of the time citizens (in one paper about 42%) end up changing their initial views after deliberation, while many more end up broadening their views. Other significant benefits include participants being far more politically engaged after the process.


(Jesse Hermans) #14

This is not to say you can’t also use sortition to influence important policy which is currently in the hands of ministers, such as infrastructure and budgeting, which has been done quite successfully.
A citizen’s jury could even be used to work out Australia’s medium-long term defence policy, required capabilities, procurement process etc. However the execution of those decisions once a plan has been decided upon becomes the role of a (preferably an elected) minister and not a jury.

(Jesse Hermans) #15

Also I’m completly in favour of using sortition to select PDC participants for working groups should the PDC ever reach an unmanageable number of volunteers. Although for that to be relevant, we’d have to first reach the problem of too many volunteers, rather than too few.