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Sortition (wikipedia.org)
189 points by ovulator 42 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 116 comments

There is a great book on that matter: Against Elections: The Case for Democracy from David Van Reybrouck

It argues that it would be better and more democratic to randomly sample parliament instead of voting. It also describes how a transition could look like and how mixed systems could work.

The biggest issue I see is that such a system would need a very strong and well-designed bureaucracy and very well educated and moral public servants. You would have a state run by technocrats, who prepare options for decisions that the randomly drawn parliament would need to make. These technocrats could get all-powerful quickly.

Just imagine the value of the industry popping up to "explain" things to the confused random people in parliament. It would take lobbying to a whole new level. At least the current ones are weary and cynical and have their wits to understand how money talks and what's up, who wants what when they say something etc. Maybe some are naive in certain areas like tech, but I'm pretty sure random people would be like dropping sheep to the wolves' den.

The idea of neutral impartial helpful technocrats guiding them sounds wonderful but I'm not sure it would play out like that.

That's pretty much what has happened at the state level in the US because of term limits: the lack of experience produces a gap that is filled by lobbyists, who wind up writing the laws, because the rookie legislators lack the experience to draft complex legislation. The lobbyists are often former lawmakers who have sold their services to some wealthy industry or company.

People sometimes ask me about this because "I'm the tech guy", and surely it would be good to have the tech experts set the regulations. To this my response is:

Would you like banking regulations set by bankers?

> Just imagine the value of the industry popping up to "explain" things to the confused random people in parliament. It would take lobbying to a whole new level.

Honestly I'm not sure it'd be all that different. I mean, ask a random pedestrian on the street if they know what lobbying is, and they likely have at least some minimal clue. That means it's already a "cultural factor."

What would change is the way lobbying works, since it'd no longer work in a way where a long-term rapport is established between a politician and a bunch of lobbyists...

In the U.S. I would take advantage of the bicameral structure to randomly sample the House of Representatives but elect the Senate.

You do need professional legislators who understand law enough to write it, but lawyers have a warped viewpoint that needs to be counterbalanced by the voice of the people.

That’s messy because the senate and house aren’t really divided by experience since the 17th amendment. The main difference now is geographic state level vs. popular district level representation. Using elections for one and sortition for the other doesn’t make any sense anymore.

You would probably want to either change that or else select both by lot, but with a high bar for eligibility in the senatorial lot (e.g., either passing some nontrivial civics exam or something or rolling back the 17th amendment).

Heck, I'd go farther and make the House a random sample, and move the Senate back to being selected by the States.

I live in a place (Switzerland) where administration heads are not generally replaced when the minister changes. This is commonly regarded as a good thing.

In Austria, where I live, thats also the case.

Suppose the candidates for the sortition are selected using following method: Phase 1: Each citizen has a right to nominate one candidate. We assume that citizens will nominate persons with whom they are acquainted personally and whom they believe are honest and competetnt. Phase 2: We count nominations for each potential candidate end keep in the pool only these who have between 10 and 50 nominations. This way we select only person who are considered honest and competent by at least 10 people, and who are also NOT public figures. Phase 3. We implement sortition between the candidates left in the pool. This way we have excellent probability to have parliament full of honest and competent peuople.

A nominations system in which vouching for a candidate is more likely to harm than help their chances of appointment [especially if one is sufficiently convinced of their competence to believe 10 other people will feel likewise] is palpably absurd.

Eh, there's a logic to it, I think. If you intend people to only nominate the people they know personally (because otherwise they are relaying their impression of a curated media image, or the opinion of someone else) then it's likely that people who have more than 50 (or maybe 100 or 200) nominations are being nominated by people that don't really know them.

Some Twitch streamer with a thousand followers would have little problem getting 50 nominations by snapping their fingers, regardless of their qualifications.

This being said, there's probably a better way.

Clarifying your point because I didn't get it at first: parent is saying that discarding nominees who got more than 50 nominations is harmful.

Don't you personally know somebody who you consider be a good candidate? I do...

This seems to be missing the point (maybe my wording is at fault). If somebody I know has 49 people voting for them, they might be selected under this system. If I nominate them, because I also think they might be a good candidate, I stop them from having any chance of being selected. The only time my vote is definitely helpful to somebody is if most people they know definitely wouldn't trust them.

(Not to mention how easily the system is gamed by a membership groups orchestrating nominations. Pick 10% of your membership and get the others to nominate them and you'll have a lot of people in the hat. To be sure these candidates will be in the lottery, they'll want to select people who aren't well respected outside the group....)

I think the technocrat problem would be partly mitigated by the fact that you are bound to randomly pick a few people who are smart and informed enough to be able to critically look at what the technocrats are doing and possibly use discretionary funds to launch an investigation.

Some of the technocrats could also be picked from professional bodies using sortition, just enough to stir things up.

Assuming these technocrats haven't rigged the selection system to prefer less educated people.

/would need a very strong and well-designed bureaucracy and very well educated and moral public servants/

Yeah, that's a feature, not a bug. You want the average education level to be such that random people can govern reasonably well... Which is GREAT at the societal level.

The world would be a much better place if it was possible to raise the average education level that high without negative side-effects.

The last time that was possible was something like 100-200 years ago, before specialisation became so important.

I don’t know anything of note about pharmaceuticals or civil engineering, rhetoric or national security, trade or industry. But I think it’s a safe bet that 90% of the people on Hacker News knows far more about computers than the average UK politician.

If everyone in a nation has to learn politics well enough to govern, nobody would have time to learn anything else. The only measure by which I can even judge politicians is their character, their honesty, their morals — and I do recognise the problems with even those as my measure.

A couple things to consider in the US context:

a) Most elected politicians, especially at highest levels, are spending a HUGE amount of their time on the phones, working on (or being worked on by) donors. Most of the 'real' work of governing is done by staff.

b) About half of the US elected officials believe that the best way to govern is to not govern at all, and furthermore undermine any projects which might make it seem like government can do anything successfully. (For example, Grover Norquist is on record opposing pre-filled taxes because he believes taxes should be as painful as possible. Similar examples of 'we can't do that, it might work' abound.) Which is to say, random people may well still be better than deeply ingrained active saboteurs.

Thanks for that info.

Why are there politicians who are trying to undermine their own thrones? How does that even work?

I’m not doubting you, I just don’t understand what’s going on.

Some background reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starve_the_beast

Regan: "The nine most terrifying words in the english language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" Norquist, again: "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

What's ACTUALLY happening here is a combination of goals, ultimately about cutting social programs and reducing taxes for the wealthy. "Government doesn't work" => "We shouldn't pay them taxes" => "We should cut lots of taxes" => Tax breaks which overwhelmingly benefit rich donors and party members, while reducing services for people that need them... It's a straight up wealth transfer, and it's been exceedingly efficient.

If government does something well, then the first link in the chain is broken. So to keep the whole chain of reasoning intact, it's best to keep government inefficient and ineffectual, especially as it relates to people's everyday lives. And every failed program is another bit of fuel for the nihilist campaign strategy.

Ah, so equivalent to asset-stripping/corporate raiding?

We already have that, though.

Elected politicians spend most of their time raising money and the remainder stoking culture war bullshit. The system mostly runs itself.

The nice thing is that the increasing levels of public-awareness / call-out culture would mitigate this. All it would need is one guy on twitter to create a stir to bring opposing points into the mind of the appointed, to which the technocrats would need to have a good rebuttal or be overruled by the appointed.

I'd like to expore the idea some more, seems really interesting.

I'm glad the Wikipedia summary ends with this line:

Today, sortition is commonly used to select prospective jurors in common law-based legal systems and is sometimes used in forming citizen groups with political advisory power (citizens' juries or citizens' assemblies).

People reading this are likely familiar with the use of sortition in jury selection. What is probably the single most well know thing about sitting on a jury?

It sucks. It's somehow boring and stressful at the same time, and the pay is very much token. Therefore, most people try to get out of it, with varying degrees of success. People have gone as far as not registering to vote in order to avoid jury duty. This is specifically why voter rolls are not used for that in many places.

The corollary to this is that juries aren't actually a random sample: people getting out of jury duty obviously causes selection effects. If the sample is not random, you lose a lot of the theoretical advantages of sortition. Unless we take strong steps to make sitting in a legislative body not suck, I see no reason it would be any better there.

I mean - ruling should suck. It shouldn't be an attractive position. Our rulers should be those that want to do good for the people, not because it is a comfy gig with lots of fame and de facto billionaire status.

If you want rulers to be selected on the basis of ambitions to do good for the people, eliminating any form of popular approval in favour of random selection is highly unlikely to be your best choice.

And the more uncomfortable you make it not to opt-out, the more you'll select for people who've figured out a strategy to benefit from all that power despite the lack of officially sanctioned perks.

If doing good to the people sucks, a lot of people who want to do good but can't endure the suckyness would not go for that.

Not sure if it's related, but consistently the best engineering managers I encounter are those that do not want to be managers.

Sortition only works if you can't opt out. It'd need to be a civic duty, as it was in ancient Athens. Clearly it should also be made to not suck, i.e. short terms, adequate pay, and layoff protection. But it really needs to be an actual representative selection of citizens or you're just doing very shitty voting.

(Also: see on other thread about using sortition for the non-voter part of an electoral system.)

I'd be fine serving on a jury were it not for the fact that I wouldn't get paid my regular salary. It's no coincidence that the ranks usually get filled up with the unemployed and retired.

How does the saying go? Something like "A jury is filled with the people who weren't smart enough to figure out how to get out of jury duty."

I've always thought that sortition should play a greater role in democratic systems, as a counterbalance to the flaws of voting, namely: the ability of money and power to influence elections and the advantage that charismatic people have over uncharismatic ones. Technology plays a pretty big historic role here, too: there are definitely American presidents from before radio/television that wouldn't have become presidents if they ran today. E.g. some of the Founding Fathers were fantastic writers but awful public speakers.

Edit: adding some more details:

Yet for every Washington or Adams, there is a Thomas Jefferson — a president who was such a bad public speaker that he declined to deliver a State of the Union address to Congress, instead beginning a century-long tradition of sending congressional members a letter...


Here's another interesting suggestion, possibly as a transition method: use sortition to fill the non-voter share of parliament members (by randomly choosing from people who have not voted.)

Everyone can decide on their own whether they want to vote or not, and only those that do not vote run the "risk" (or reward) of possibly being randomly chosen for parliament duty. If 65% of people vote, 65% of parliament is elected members, the other 35% is randomly choosen from non-voters.

And you fix voting fatigue as a freebie.

Except that [i] ignorance, apathy or severe illness is a bizarre characteristic to select for in government, and [ii] it probably makes it highly irrational for most interested and knowledgeable people vote (tiny chance of actually wielding significant power and influence vs not-much-bigger chance of making a difference to which elected representative gets to wield it). Unless, say, the opposition party is really, really threatening to them to the point they're prepared to surrender their chance of representation to vote against the threat....

This is quite brilliant. It (correctly, in my view) equates non-voting with "I don't care enough, just give the job to anyone minimally qualified". Let's do it.

Good idea!

Would it counter the ability of money and power to influence elections? I can imagine lobbyists flocking to whomever gets selected and using a combination of flattery, bribery, threats and cajoling to get them to vote the way they want, just as they do with representatives right now.

If sortition were issue, rather than term-based, I'd imagine you could use something like a sequestration process for selectees, combined with independent oversight and public transparency rules for the organizations creating prep materials.

It'd be even easier, since the decision makers they were attempting to influence wouldn't have any need to worry about the appearance of propriety to secure reelection, and would be less likely to have a pre-existing set of biases.

They're also more likely to lack knowledge on the things lobbyists will attempt to lobby them on.

Already lobbyists try to run "education programs" with representatives as a means of influencing them (which works rather well). That tactic would be a lot more effective if representatives were perpetually lacking in knowledge about relevant issues.

And I'll bet a lot of these randomly selected representatives will choose to be educated by the group that takes them to a fancy dinner and ball game after, or has donated money to their church rather than the one operated by the local chapter of a perpetually underfunded Walmart Union who offer stale cookies.

All of these things can be mitigated with stricter antilobbying laws, but then again, so can our current problems.

I don't see the problem as necessarily being worse with randomly selected representatives, and in some aspects it may work better (randomly selected hippies will tell big corps to take a hike) , but I don't see it as solving the problem structurally.

Good question. Does someone know how sortition helped fix the oligarchy problem in Ancient Greece? I can't find an immediate answer on wiki, even though it claims that.

Sortition was an indelible feature of Athenian democracy but it was not its decisive characteristic. That would be that the assembly was sovereign, and that it was not representative. Any citizen could participate in any given meeting of the assembly, make speeches and vote directly on the issues. The discussion here assumes sortition to select a representative body. Sortition in Athens was for bureaucratic office and for juries, not for the assembly.

Uncharismatic people don’t do well even if elected.

GHW Bush was uncharismatic but won and also was ineffective at much. I mean, what did he do effectively?

Come to think of it, at least back to Carter, VPs seem to be quite uncharismatic. Ford on the other hand was more charismatic than Nixon.

GHW Bush's crew planned for the first Gulf War in the early 1980s, designing a "rapid deployment force" that could occupy Saudia Arabia if something went down in the Persian Gulf.

Saddam Hussein was deep in debt and heading for an appointment with the IMF. Much of that debt was owed to Kuwait and he figured that annexing Kuwait would clean up his books from the Iran-Iraq war. He told the U.S. Ambassador that much; she said nothing in reply, went home to inform the Pentagon. Saddam took that as a "yes".

Bush put together a large coalition, established a lot of legitimacy, and ultimately won the war, and sent the troops home to a ticker tape parade.

Bush ended the "Vietnam Syndrome", completing the rebuilding of the military. CNN didn't show you the four days of nonstop ground combat that traumatized veterans who experienced the same mental health symptoms as Vietnam vets.

(You might think Bush and the CIA are evil, but up to this point, his team GOT THINGS DONE)

Saddam Hussein tried to blow the ex-president up when he was visiting Saudi Arabia. He took it very personally and so did his son -- that's why GW Bush was in such a hurry to attack Iraq after the Sept 11 attacks.

That war was a mistake to begin with, but in retrospect the Bush crew make big mistakes in the "nation building" phase - Don Rumsfeld for instance would be compared favorably to Robert McNamara except that he went along with Gulf War II.

Hmm interesting write up. Taken at face value, it would appear he was a capable bureaucrat (could get things fine within a system), but as a politician he was lacking. Which I guess makes sense.

Politicians have to compromise and made deals with the devil and other things which require good rapport even with those you disagree with. They also need to sell their ideas to people and have them accept those ideas. Bureaucrats on the other hand just have to work well within a system. There are similarities of course, but I think one of them requires more agreeability and charisma than the other where procedure and connections are more important.

Wild. I remember reading about Saddam getting tacit approval for the war. Thanks for the write up.

The UK had at least one superbly "uncharismatic" Prime Minister in living memory: Clement Attlee. Even though he was Labour, Thatcher wrote of him:

"Of Clement Attlee, however, I was an admirer. He was a serious man and a patriot. Quite contrary to the general tendency of politicians in the 1990s, he was all substance and no show"


On the other hand May, Brown and Major also had very little charisma in public and they were far from effective prime ministers [although Brown was generally effective as a Chancellor]

Good point - I meant extremely effective and uncharismatic - which does rather rule out those PMs you mention.

> what did he do effectively? Cover up his involvement in Iran-Contra.

UPDATE: Wrong guy! Missed the middle initial there.

He lied his way into two extremely expensive and unwinnable wars, both of which are effectively still on-going after almost 20 years. That required charisma. His legacy is north, south, west, and east of Tikrit.

GHW Bush = George Herbert Walker Bush, the first president Bush (1989-93)

What a fail on my part. Sorry!

The large majority apparently can't distinguish between a handful of policies, because if they could, money and power would not have the ability to influence elections, nor would charisma, yet sortition assumes they would make good leaders. I don't see it.

One argument against sortition is that you might occasionally get someone who was hopelessly unsuited to the job, whereas, proponents of conventional elections might argue - their system would obviously never do that. But now we know they're wrong, so that's one more reason to consider sortition.

Maybe there is some sweet spot for a combination of sortition, election and meritocracy.

Meritocacy: If office/role requires specific competencies, then the canditate is either required to have appropriate credentials/experience or in some cases at least has to pass a test/exam.

This is not a joke, I think there are many decisions that should be driven by experts. One obvious one would be military officials as mentioned by Wikipedia. But where are the engineers, scientists and craftsmen in politics? Hidden away as consultants mostly?

Gov officials should be tested, according to their role, before even being considered for a role. Incompetence is dangerous and neither election nor sortition can select against it.

Election: I think there is a lot of merit in election. Being able to talk well, having confidence and being popular are all positive factors that can be very important. It's just that it becomes a farce/show too quickly and the whole election process is expensive.

Maybe there is a better way, by electing a larger pool P > N where N is the office seats, one could find a sweet spot where many people need to know, like you and find you suitable.

Sortition: Now we weeded out the incompetent and the people nobody likes. At this point it would likely be more efficient and fairer to do a random selection.

It is important that this would be the last step in any number of steps for selection.

> Being able to talk well, having confidence and being popular are all positive factors

It's a problem of information access, advertising, and news media that changes an electoral process from a meritocracy selected by the electorate into a popularity contest.

Without those factors, there's no reason that an informed, rational populace would select an unsuitable candidate. They'd use their information about the candidates to select the most meritorious option.

Instead, popularity and advertising have surprisingly become more important than suitability and merit. It's not obvious that this must happen, and I think some regulation, process improvement, and innovation in this area could change the electoral process into a more reasonable one.

> It's not obvious that this must happen

It's not obvious, but I think it does follow from the concept of general election.

The problem is that being informed and rational about selecting a suitable candidate is considerably harder than we think it is:

1. Society faces a large number of extremely complex issues. Candidate X says, "we should get rid of regulation Y." Are they right? Are they wrong? To figure that out, you need to know enough about the economy, about why Y exists in the first place, how many experts agree and why, how many experts disagree and why, etc. Just for this one issue, it will take hours. If you want to make an informed choice between two competent candidates, there's no way it will take you less than a week of intensive, full time study. At this point, you should damn well be getting paid for the effort.

2. How do you evaluate the character of a candidate you've never met? What if you don't know anyone who's met them? When you hire someone, it's best if you can meet them, talk to previous employers, run background checks. How can millions of people do this for presidential candidates, each to their own satisfaction? They can't.

3. How do you negotiate with fellow voters? If I want some things and you want some things, and we both need to agree on a candidate, the candidate I would pick in my corner and the candidate you would pick in your corner may very well be different from the candidate we would agree to pick if we could negotiate directly. If Clinton and Trump voters had been able to directly negotiate with each other, is there not a possibility they would have picked neither?

4. How do you get all relevant information? Depending on what is in a candidate's tax returns or on secret recordings, a voter may decide differently. Therefore, it makes sense that the voter would be able to subpoena some of that information, including classified information. After all, if I'm picking someone to run my country, I sure would like to see any classified information that betrays poor judgment on their part. In fact, I dare say that I need this information to do my job. But obviously it is still sensitive, so it cannot be provided to millions of voters.

I don't think general elections, where everyone votes, is a good system. It's not because people are dumb. It's because it scales poorly.

A simple alternative would be to pick a random subset of the electorate (a hundred or so) to act as voters, fly them to a convention center for a week, all expenses paid plus a sizeable wage, and let them interview candidates directly, subpoena relevant classified information, and negotiate with each other. I don't think anything short of that would work. Plus, it'd be much less expensive overall.

I don't think you want to pick the executive using sortition. I think a better system would be to pick the House of Commons using sortition and then have the House interview candidates for President/Prime Minister.

In this scenario the President would be directly accountable to the House and would be required to answer to them. The House would have the right to investigate and replace the President at any time for any reason, which should keep them honest and focused on the job.

Assuming that by "we" you meant The United States, I think that was already considered wrong and that's why we ended up with an intended mitigation that is the electoral college.

It was also obviously intended to empower the state as a critical entity to a federation, but all of this cements the fact that there is no perfect voting system and all come with hosts of disadvantages and representation flaws.

Picking the electoral college as evidence of there being no perfect voting system is like trying to prove there is no such thing as a perfect leader by using the example of Pol Pot. Also if the electoral college was an intended mitigation to the problem of electing "someone who was hopelessly unsuited to the job", it's not clear that it ever prevented that from happening (any more than a popular vote would have).

"Perfect is the enemy of good", as the saying goes, so let me propose a thought experiment. What if the US kept its electoral college, but each state was required to allocate its electors in proportion to the relative vote share of the parties within that state (as closely as mathematically possible)? Of course this would require a constitutional amendment (or a hack like the NPVIC) but it's interesting to consider how this would change voting patterns, campaigns, results, and the other metrics by which a voting system is judged.

I didn't pick the example, but my point was that example along with others come with some warts.

I haven't seen sortition suggested for "singular" roles like heads of some departments or such. It's designed to create representative bodies of a sufficiently large size to smooth out things through numbers. I don't think it's adaptable to things like mayors, presidents, cabinet members, etc.

That's painting it more black and white that I think it is. Proponents of elections won't argue that their system will always produce someone suited for the job, just that it will produce the person much the electorate believes is suited for the job.

The big difference is probably that a proponent of elections believes that the masses have a better idea of who is suited for that job than random selection, and proponents of sortion disagree.

Yeah, there's a lot of mental divergence going on. Try to talk with someone about directly democratic elements in a state's administration, and many will happily tell you that the same people who are a) perfectly capable of choosing good administrators are also somehow b) absolutely incapable of choosing good policies. Obviously everything you would need to get from a) to b) is choosing someone who is capable of making good policy decisions and then vote for whatever policy that person is arguing for. That's practically a logical proof.

Not to say that, for choosing a good administrator you must also be sure that the person isn't lying and will stay honest for the next X years; has enough competence to manage to get the proposal ahead; won't change his mind; has enough of a selection of good proposals that is worth voting more than the competitors.

Choosing a policy is easier by orders of magnitude, and yet people can only be trusted to solve the hard problem, never the easy one.

The argument isn't that the public is particularly good at choosing administrators, but that they have some ability to weed out bad administrators, and administrators have some pressure to perform. Unlike the public, they accept blame for the negative consequences of popular decisions like tax cuts or spending increases. The ability to take unpopular decisions is a feature not a bug.

One can make a similar theoretical argument that it is harder, possibly 'orders of magnitude' so for a CEO to determine the reliability of prospective hires to be accountable for decision making, and yet they invariably do despite greater ability to take executive decisions than the public

> but that they have some ability to weed out bad administrators

Hum... How would that work on the real world? It would carry some merit if people could have a vote of non-confidence and put politicians out of their positions, but it is very rare to see anything like this around the world.

The fact that delegating things right is way harder than doing it oneself is well accept on management. People still delegate because doing does not scale. There is no argument against direct democracy there.

Many countries have recall mechanisms, and most of the real world has term limits, and most candidates represent parties who expect to outlast individuals who retire.

Most large firms have management teams staffed by people whose job is deciding (and owning a budget, and knowing rather than doing). And that's in businesses whose scope isn't on the scale of 'basically everything'. Their existence isn't an argument against direct democracy so much as a comprehensive refutation of the argument that informing oneself about decision makers is far more difficult than making every decision

Voting would make so much more sense if it wasn't a dumb "first past the post". It has a ton of downsides, like increased partisanship (if not outright hostility) and voting not for people who you think are suitable but for the least bad people who, as you think, have a chance to be elected.

The only reasonable voting system known to date is preferential / Condorcet voting. It's successfully applied e.g. by the Debian project.

The huge upside to First Past the Post is that the electorate definitely understands why their candidate lost the election because it's so simple.

The purpose of Democratic elections is not something like "good government". We haven't the faintest idea how to do that. What elections do for us is enable bloodless transitions of power. The useless idiots currently in power can be voted out and you can replace them with the useless idiots you want to be in power instead if you can get enough votes. Will they be any better? Well of course you hope so, but the one thing I'm sure of it is that fighting a civil war over it would be worse.

So the problem to think about isn't "Which electoral system best satisfies Arrow's conflicting criteria in my opinion as an educated person who has spent a lot of time thinking about it?" but "What ensures the people who voted for Bob not Alice will accept that Alice won?".

If you're choosing a single person like the leader of your Executive or something equally consequential democratic elections are (along with sortition) one of the least terrible of the bad options you have, and complicated mechanisms like the Schulze method you're talking about are likely to mean losers are defiant so they're probably the wrong choice compared to First Past the Post or other simple methods.

If like Debian you're basically just picking the head of a club, it's scarcely matters how you do it, Schulze seems over-complicated to me but it's just not a big deal. Having democratic elections isn't important for this purpose anyway - nobody is going to kill and die for Debian leadership otherwise, but knock yourselves out.

All good points, but the US is still in bad shape with regard to understandability of results. The electoral college makes it routine that the winning candidate is voted for by a minority of citizens. The fact that we still have bloodless transitions indicates to me that the risk you raise is overstated. I think if it was replaced with something like ranked choice we would see an improvement in both desirability and understanding of results.

I have a particular hatred for FPTP too, but claiming that the only reasonable voting system is one that no state uses is like claiming the only reasonable programming language is <insert-awesome-toy-language>.

Things rarely suck until you start using them.

Suppose the candidates for the sortition are selected using following method: Phase 1: Each citizen has a right to nominate one candidate. We assume that citizens will nominate persons with whom they are acquainted personally and whom they believe are honest and competetnt. Phase 2: We count nominations for each potential candidate end keep in the pool only these who have between 10 and 50 nominations. This way we select only person who are considered honest and competent by at least 10 people, and who are also NOT public figures. Phase 3. We implement sortition between the candidates left in the pool. This way we have excellent probability to have parliament full of honest and competent people.

I'm reminded of how lottery voting, a.k.a. random ballot, is immune to any kind of tactical voting. [0] Either your vote counts for nothing (the most likely outcome), or it is the only vote that matters. Either way, you just vote for your favourite. See also [1].

I suppose it may also have the effect of reducing incentive to compromise, as well as the obvious effect of opening the door to fringe candidates.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_ballot

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow%27s_impossibility_theore...

A great advantage of sortition is that it removes the need for campaigning and political parties, so the lobbyists have nothing to grasp on. Another one is that it is scalable - if you have 10 separate issues, you can draw 10 groups to work on them.

> the lobbyists have nothing to grasp on.

There are a few court districs where the big IP fights in technology are being fought. In those districts, there is tons of lobbying by tech companies to make create a positive image of them in the local community's mind.


If more power is given to sortition, companies will do more of those kinds of things. In fact, I think that a component of the big-name-college-favoring GAFAM selection practice is due to them wanting to bribe upper-class America. If one of your family members works at one of those companies, you have a much different opinion on them.

Lobbyists will likely instead heavily prey upon the ignorance and inexperience of those sorted. There's going to be a lot of (in the best of cases) ignorant people in those chambers desperate to figure out a good solution to any and all issues their constituents are facing, in all those fields and manners they have zero experience with, and a lot of silver-tongued snakes offering counsel with pre-built solutions to loot the public coffers and services to their masters' favor.

I mean, there's also the option to directly bribe the representatives, who could view their selection as an opportunity to cash in, if they lack scruples and/or are in need.

Probably a lot easier to regulate than election spending, but still game-able.

Michael Schulson's 2014 Aeon essay, "If You Can't Choose Wisely, Choose Randomly", is an excellent exploration of this concept:

... Above all, chance makes its selection without any recourse to reasons. This quality is perhaps its greatest advantage, though of course it comes at a price. Peter Stone, a political theorist at Trinity College, Dublin, and the author of The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making (2011), has made a career of studying the conditions under which such reasonless-ness can be, well, reasonable.

‘What lotteries are very good for is for keeping bad reasons out of decisions,’ Stone told me. ‘Lotteries guarantee that when you are choosing at random, there will be no reasons at all for one option rather than another being selected.’ He calls this the sanitising effect of lotteries – they eliminate all reasons from a decision, scrubbing away any kind of unwanted influence. As Stone acknowledges, randomness eliminates good reasons from the running as well as bad ones. He doesn’t advocate using chance indiscriminately. ‘But, sometimes,’ he argues, ‘the danger of bad reasons is bigger than the loss of the possibility of good reasons.’ ...


Oh, seeing Venice mentioned here does not do justice to how weird the process was: 10 steps at each either enlarging or reducing the number of people involved, all to prevent a single family from controlling the outcome (but still allowing negotiations to happen at every step, apparently).


I really like calling it "Demarchy". Mostly because I came upon this by reading Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space novels (which use the term with a somewhat different meaning, everyone is continuously polled through cybernetic implants. But that's just an extreme form of sortition IMHO, by "randomly choosing everyone".)

> But that's just an extreme form of sortition IMHO, by "randomly choosing everyone"

I don't know, I think they're pretty different. The main point of sortition, the way I see it, is to pick a small subset of people to focus on a problem. You can't ask "everyone" to focus on every issue, it's way too much work. No one would be able to do anything else. Reducing the set of deciders to a manageable size, while being statistically representative of the whole, is the whole appeal.

We're talking about Sci-Fi novels here. In Revelation Space, "Demarchists" are a faction of humanity that has embraced cybernetics as a means to implement "true democracy"; it's described as implants that continuously poll you without this actually being a conscious thought. And there are other factions in-universe that see this as a form of tyranny and call them zombies :)


> You can't ask "everyone" to focus on every issue, it's way too much work.

Once upon a time, the US Constitution made a point of saying that Congress must meet at least once a year, whether they have business or not. Because it seemed, at that time, entirely plausible that they might not have that much work to do.

The most powerful in-between solution is to randomly select a ballot per electoral district instead of a constituent.

This gives the best of both worlds of electoral districts and popular voting: Everyone is locally represented but the national representation is neatly distributed over ideologies instead of having just two parties.

As the most import benefit, it completely removes the incentive for strategic voting.

A lot of people are scared of sortition because they are worried that the average person is not up to it - but I think there are ways round that. The best property of sortition is that it prevents clique influence on the selection of representatives. This can be preserved in systems which combine sortition with other mechanisms, for example:

- arrange for the electorate to be formed into groups of 100..200 however they wish.

- each group elects a candidate

- representatives are selected from the candidates by sortition.

This has two beneficial features over pure sortition:

- The electorate has the opportunity to weed out unsuitables

- Learning is still possible (if some rep is manifestly unsuitable, the lectorate can resolve to select no-one like that in the future)

(Allowing groups in the range 100..200 makes it simpler to form the groups, because once a list reaches the upper bound it can split into two, allowing everyone to just join the group they like rather than the last % having to scramble for a place).

I think this would have the interesting effect of strongly incentivizing people to form a group with other people that share their political views. Kinda like a micro-party. And I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

America would be better governed if House elections were replaced by drawing 1000 randomly selected citizens from the census list.

That (I'd consider putting the number above 1,000, actually), but also have state legislatures appoint Senators again, then find some way to encourage the (presumably career, mostly) Senators to mentor and guide the house members to reduce the ability of lobbyists to set the House's agenda. Then let popularly-elected state legislators appoint the President. Federal-level elections past maybe the House are absurd, and the Presidential election especially and increasingly so. Waste of money, waste of attention.

How so?

It would have the effect of ending 'political aristocracies', where there are whole families of politicians across several generations. It would also reduce the distance between politicians and ordinary people.

It would also prevent anyone accumulating years of political experience before assuming office, though, which seems like a serious drawback.

> It would also prevent anyone accumulating years of political experience before assuming office, though, which seems like a serious drawback.

Yes, that's a drawback, but it has an upside. It would prevent any representative from having been a politician for years, so they'd be there to represent the people, not to further their political careers.

If you look at Washington as a whole, it seems rather clear to me that the long-serving politicians are more focused on continuing to get elected than they are on actually representing their people.

[One's party] desiring to be reelected provides more incentives to represent 'the people', or at least a reasonable approximation of what a plurality of voters in ones state considers acceptable than a system in which politicians have no incentives to do anything other than pursue their personal interests.

Sure. The question then is how important political experience is.

Especially when the lion's share of said experience apparently boils down to raising campaign money from donors.

It would be a representative sample of the public rather than an elite-weighted sample that was the outcome of a sleazy money and demagoguery driven election process.

This is how I think it should work.

Electors are picked randomly for every election. Lets say 50 for every house seat. They are sequestered like a jury for several days. They listen to every candidate, they (may) deliberate in private, they vote, until they have choice. Then they are dismissed. The chosen candidate holds the seat for three years and votes to choose a head of government.

The advantage is that there are no campaigns, less money involved, less 30 second ads, electors are given the time to focus on every candidate.

Why would electors who have spent their entire lives being responsive to campaigns and parties suddenly strip off their partisan blinkers when assessing the red team and blue team candidates?

All you're really doing is barring the vast majority of the population from political participation and ensuring close races are determined by lottery rather than actual popularity and differential turnout, which [absent effective voter suppression] is a strictly worse method.


"For the first time, a panel representative of the diversity of French citizens, will be directly involved in the preparation of the law."


Interesting idea. One thing I will point to is that in the Euro Champions League, they randomly draw small plastic balls with the names of teams inside it to set up fixture match ups. People still regularly question whether its free of tampering because one could use heated or rough edged balls influencing which ball is chosen by the person making the drawings, in this case for a more favorable match-up for a team.

I'd be in favor of sortition in the US for the House of Representatives, as long as we increased the size to 5-10k members.

Remember this is essentially how American jury pools are selected - of course with the lawyers having some rejection powers.

I believe this is how elections were held in Athens, with eligible citizens being selected for office via first a vote, to limit the number of candidates to a hundred or so, and then a random draw.

It was. But the key thing in Athens Republic was not the sortition itself, but the controls put in place to guarantee that "chosen" representatives were doing a good job.

Being chosen after sortition was not a fun thing, it was a heavy burden to bare. Representatives were held accountable for their decisions. Their private life basically became public to ensure that they would not be bought by "lobbys".

A lot of people are usually taken aback by sortition because they think the goal is to randomly pick a dictator. They are still representatives, and with not a lot of power actually. The people in Athens were still voting their laws directly.

Relevant Federalist Paper #10:


I would love to try this for SF govt.

Would this even work with a parliarment?

If you got 500 people randomly selected, could they even decide anything?

The common example for the "would this even work as a parliament" is the EU parliament. It has 705 seats, and is filled with people coming from ±150 different parties: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_political_parties_in_...

It has a very performant track record. It is not organised as your typical parliament, and has a lot of structure to make this work, such as organising in groups which mostly bridge elections.

Of course, these are mostly seasoned politicians. But I reckon a similar structure would work for a sortition based parliament.

Sure they can decide, depending on how the decision process is set up. If they can vote on proposals and decide by unqualified majority, for example. You'd get a decision every time. (If you assume a tie-breaker rule like even votes mean no.)

Of course the question remains whether decision by unqualified majority is a good thing.

Maybe as a political party, whose members change every two years?

Would there still be an independent judiciary?


You're assuming the disease is an absence of character; it is not.

The present US system is split-everything-into-districts then winner-take-all-in-each-district. This system is known to have a mathematical fixed point (as a transformation polity → polity) where:

- There are two parties who evenly divide political power.

- Those parties are deadlocked 50/50 and therefore very little gets done.

- Those parties are spineless—they do not stick to whatever “core principles” they might have a reputation for, and an issue which party A champions one decade might become party B's forte a few decades later.

- Few people actually consider themselves a part of either party; the substantial majority considers themselves “independent” voters—but they would admit under pressure that they do mostly vote for one party consistently. If asked why they don’t consider themselves a part of that party they will indicate that more than half of what “their” party does, they do not support.

- The crux is why they don’t vote for the “other guys” which comes down to being appalled and terrified at some of what the other party stands for.

The core features of the disease all interrelate. The spinelessness is being used by the two parties to find an issue which the other party does not seem to care about, in order to demonize the members of that party. For example, witness Tucker Carlson talking this year about the risk of fraud with mail-in votes; the subtext is that Democrats because they do not care about this topic are displaying a core moral lapse—they are too trusting, perhaps too enamored of past studies of voter fraud—which will dangerously cause the demise of the sanctity of our elections if everyone starts doing this mail-in voting this year in response to the pandemic. This “what the F--- are they thinking” mindset that riddles your comment towards them, is pointed right at you by that other half of the country.

The reason it has to be this way is that literally having a spine is a political death sentence. It’s economics and incentives. We had a party which tried to have a spine, “we don’t care about slavery one way or the other, we have always been about TARIFFS and that is what we are going to talk about this election cycle!” They were called the Whigs and meanwhile a party which expertly played the demonize-and-win game emerged under Abraham Lincoln, and the Whigs just kind of faded over one or two election cycles into obscurity as the US civil war took its toll.

Oh, yeah, that's the other thing. Constantly demonizing the other party doesn't work forever; this "district-and-winner-take-all" approach leads to civil war. But the point is that the cause is not that the other 50% of the country is morally reprehensible; the cause is that it is in each party's best interests to paint the other 50% as morally reprehensible. This in turn comes from the fact that the winner-take-all nature of the election makes it really hard to fork a political party; witness e.g. the recent emergence of the “Tea Party”—but never as an actual political party as that would be suicide to their desired goals.

The easiest solution to implement right now would probably be to make every state into one big multi-member House district running a party-proportionate election. It is not clear what would happen to the Senate under such a structure, but it seems plausible that the US would fragment into 5 or 6 political parties and Senate candidates would court the endorsement of 2 or 3 of them. But it is possible that the Senate would still be 50% Democrat, 50% Republican even as the House lost those particular affiliations. But at least something would be moving forward.

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