50 days and counting

50It is now 50 days since the election of the 32nd Dail in Ireland. In the history of the State, that’s the longest interval, by some measure, between the election of the Dail and the failure of the Dail to elect a Taoiseach.

Moreover, the prospect of electing a Taoiseach any time soon is as remote as on the day the results of the election were finalised.

The workings of the Dail are provided for in the Constitution. They are quite simple. Members nominate other members to be Taoiseach. If a majority are in favour, that member is elected Taoiseach. The Taoiseach then appoints a cabinet. The Dail votes to accept the cabinet.

The Constitution makes no reference to political parties. It does not require a “Programme for Government”. It contains no reference to the word “coalition” or the phrase “minority Government”.

Its intent is quite simple: people drawn from various backgrounds, viagra canada online, regions and experience should come together and pass laws.

The fact that the current membership of the Dail are incapable of doing this has nothing to do with the constitutional design of the Dail. Nor is it tenable to say that of the 157 members of the current Dail, there are not 79 (a majority) who share suitably similar political views that would allow them to elect a Taoiseach.

The impasse in the current Dail arises from one thing and one thing alone: the need for its members to be re-elected.

The 2 largest parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, have been political rivals for decades, and know that forming a Government together will erode their support base in favour of newer, smaller parties.

The newer, smaller parties recognise that participating in unpopular decision-making will reduce their support and put their already tenuous existence at risk.

The non-aligned, independent members recognise that what got them to the Dail in the first place, namely their non-alignment, will be put in jeopardy if they lend their support to a party in Government.

Every single member of the Dail, despite their protestations to the contrary, is considering their every move in terms of how it will impact their support. They are fighting the next election before the business of the previous election has even finished.

Now, imagine an alternative.

Imagine if the 157 members of the Dail had been randomly selected from a list of citizens who had volunteered to serve in the Dail, which was open to anyone from any walk of life or background.

Doubtless, the resulting group of members would have divergent political views, but there would almost certainly be enough of them with similar views to elect a Taoiseach (if there weren’t, we would just randomly select another Dail).

What would allow them to do this, in a way that the current Dail cannot, is the absence of the need for any of them to be re-elected. When the Dail term was over, and their business was done, they would simply return to their lives, and the next Dail would be selected.

There would obviously be discussion, and multiple candidates for Taoiseach, and some negotiation, but that is all quite normal and harmless. Ultimately, every member would be free to base their decision on their personally held political views and their estimation of the ability of the candidates. They would not have to allow the impact of their decision on their electability be the deciding factor in what they do.

This is the essence of democracy based on random selection, or Sortition, as it is commonly called. In fact, this is the only basis on which true democracy can work. This is the way democracy used to work, long before the introduction of elections into the process in modern times.

How the situation in the Dail resolves itself over the coming weeks remains unclear, but it is likely that we will have either a very unstable Government, or another election.

And what then? Do we start over and hope that the outcome is different? Have elections become such an article of faith that we have to let them de-stablise our economy and society, even if a viable alternative exists?

The answer should be no.

Abandoning the “folk theory” of democracy

k10671In an important new work, “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government”, Christopher Aachen and Larry Bartels argue that we have developed a “folk theory” of democracy, which prevents us from critically examining the flaws in our current political systems.

 

The “folk theory” is thus:

Ordinary people have preferences about what their government should do. They choose parties and leaders who will do those things, or they enact their preferences directly in referendums. In either case, in this view, what the majority wants becomes government policy – a highly attractive prospect in light of the dreary historical experience that human beings have generally endured with respect to governments. Democracy makes the people the rulers, and legitimacy derives from their consent.

Using this theory as their benchmark, the authors review the history of democracy over the last 50 years, and conclude that the ideals of democracy “crumble under empirical inspection”.

Just as a critical step towards democracy occurred when people lost faith in the notion that the king had been anointed by God, we believe that abandoning the folk theory of democracy is a prerequisite to both greater intellectual clarity and genuine political change. A great deal of hard thinking and organising will be required to develop more sophisticated notions of real democracy, and to implement the deep transformations that will be required. None of us, as individual citizens, can do it alone. But one vital implication of our account is that more realistic party doctrines of democracy are central to progress. Developing them will require robust debate in journals like this one. The conventional wisdom about democracy too often leads us toward policies that fail to improve people’s lives. A progressive agenda that can curb illegitimate inequality and serve the interests of ordinary citizens will require us to give up some cherished but badly outdated science, and to substitute for it a vision with honest 21st-century intellectual credentials.
An essay summarising the book can be read at the link below:
Christopher H Achen is the Roger Williams Straus professor of social sciences and professor of politics at Princeton University.
Larry M Bartels holds the May Werthan Shayne chair of
public policy and social science at Vanderbilt University.

Elected to the Seanad?

PANews_P-e18d077d-7b3d-4dea-9494-8c55330b0241_I1
Senator Averil Power and her former benefactor, Michael Martin.

The Seanad is the upper house in the Irish parliament, the Oireachtas.

After each election to the lower house, the Dail, an election to the Seanad occurs.

The role of the Seanad is to provide oversight of the decisions of the Dail. For that reason, the membership of the Seanad is drawn mainly from panels of candidates who have recognised expertise. Additionally, the right to vote in Seanad elections is reserved for members of the Dail, County Councillors and university graduates.

There are 60 members of the Seanad. Of these, 43 are elected from “panels” by members of the Dail and County Councillors, 6 are elected by graduates of Trinity College and the National University of Ireland, and 11 are appointed by An Taoiseach.

The design of the Seanad in this manner is (arguably) reasonable. It may appear elitist, but its role is one of oversight only, not law making, and to extend the right to participate in Seanad elections to all citizens would be in effect to create a second Dail.

However, the design and intent of the Seanad is very different from how it actually operates. In fact, the Seanad is a very good example of how a democratic institution, which was designed in good faith, has become corrupted by the electoral process.

Take the example of Senator Averil Power.

After spending some time in the employment of the State to advise Fianna Fail Minister, Mary Hannafin, Power was nominated as a Seanad candidate in 2011 by the new Fianna Fail leader, Michael Martin, and was “elected” to the Seanad from the Industrial and Commercial panel of candidates, which means she was elected by members of the Dail and County Councillors.

During 2015, Power left Fianna Fail, but did not resign her Seanad seat. In the General Election of 2016, she ran as a non-party candidate in Dublin Bay North, but did not get elected. A week later, she announced her intention to seek re-election to the Seanad, but this time from the Trinity College panel of candidates.

This side-stepping from one panel to the next provides an insight into how corrupt the process of electing members of the Seanad has become. If Power was elected from the Industrial and Commercial panel in 2011, it would seem to make sense that she would seek election from that panel again. Why would she switch to a different panel?

The reason is that she was not actually elected in 2011. At each Seanad election, the political parties decide who among their number are to be “elected” to the Seanad. They generally pick former members of the Dail who have just lost their seats in Dail elections, or newcomers with the potential to be elected to the Dail at the next election.

In 2011, Power fell into the later group. Fianna Fail decided that they would like to increase her profile and that a seat in the Seanad would achieve this. Fianna Fail Councillors and members of the Dail were instructed, under the power of the Whip, to vote for Averil Power, and she was “elected” to the Seanad without difficulty. This system isn’t peculiar to Fianna Fail. All of the other parties operate it in the same way. It even goes as far as the party hierarchy examining ballot papers before they are submitted.

Having left Fianna Fail in 2015, Power is not able to rely on the Whip to push votes her way, so there is no point in her seeking election from the Industrial and Commercial panel. Instead, as a graduate of Trinity College, she has put her name on that panel, in the hope that her profile is high enough among graduates to get more votes than the other candidates. She is currently running video ads on Facebook showing her walking across the courtyard in Trinity and claiming to have a reputation for defending education in the hope that such claims will ring true with graduate voters.

Power is not alone in this behaviour. There are currently lots of ex-members of the Dail and other political hopefuls seeking to get the nod from their party hierarchy for a 5 year berth in the Seanad.

The fact that we are so indifferent to to this is symptomatic of the degree to which politics, and government, have become something that is separate from us, which was never the way it was meant to be.

The O’Callaghan / O’Brien Triangle

Jim O'Callaghan TD
Jim O’Callaghan TD, Dublin Bay South

If you’ve read this link Representative Government? Democracy? Oligarchy? you’ll understand that oligarchy is government by the few, while democracy is government by the many.

As it also pointed out in that post, oligarchy does not arise through some secret or malicious intent, but instead through complacency.

A good example of this has surfaced in the aftermath of the 2016 Irish General Election.

In the constituency of Dublin Bay South, the Fianna Fail candidate, Jim O’Callaghan was elected to the 32nd Dail.

Jim O’Callaghan is the brother of one of Ireland’s most influential media personalities, Miriam O’Callaghan, who anchors several current affairs programmes on RTE, who previously had her own talk show and who chaired the final televised leaders debate in the run up to the election.

Jim O’Callaghan is also a Senior Counsel (a barrister), and has represented both GMC Sierra (who install our water meters under contract from Irish Water) and Denis O’Brien, owner of Ireland largest media group, Independent News and Media.

There is no suggestion that any of these people have used their influence to the benefit of any of the others, or that any have executed their public and professional duties in anything other than a legal and impartial way.

However, what this type of relationship does point to is the exclusivity of effective power, and the impregnability of the barriers that exist between ordinary people and the institutions of government.

Democracy is not something than can exist in theory only. For it have legitimacy, it must exist in practice. The use of elections cannot be relied on for this, as evidenced above.

Simple answers to common questions

The most immediate bar to acceptance of Sortition as a viable alternative to elections is the fear engendered by the random nature of lotteries.

chaos
Chaos? Really?

Simply put, people cannot accept the idea that a random person should be given a role in the process of law making. They fear chaos.

In promoting Sortition, it is vital that this concern can be immediately and comprehensively addressed. Here are some simple responses that can be offered in response to that concern.

(The common theme is that the concerns people have about Sortition are also concerns they should have about elections.)

In any assembly, established by lottery or elections, power does rest with the individual, but with the assembly itself. A single person, or even a group of people, does not have the ability to unduly influence the process.
The lottery process is only partially random. Members are not chosen from the population at large, but from a list of people who have volunteered to serve. Entry on to the list can be limited. For instance, a person may have to make a donation to a registered charity, or complete community service. A person convicted of a criminal offence, or tax evasion, would not be eligible.
The membership of the list of potential assembly members is available for public review. Any member of the public can review the list and take a view as to what type of assembly it will produce. They can then add their name to the list, or encourage others to do the same. Essentially, the composition of the list is within the control of the wider population.
Statistically, the probability of the assembly membership including a disproportionate number of undesirable people is extremely low, provided the number of members of the assembly is sufficiently large, and that they are drawn from a list of candidates that is sufficiently large.
An assembly chosen by Sortition will always retain the power the regulate its membership based on a super majority (eg 90%) of its members.
An assembly chosen by Sortition would be governed by rules. Members would have to demonstrate participation and not break laws. Members who breached those rules would be required to surrender their position to another candidate from the list.
Our current system of elections does not prevent undesirables from participating in the process of law making. Parliaments throughout the world have members who have been convicted of crimes, tax evasion, fraud, corruption and who do not participate in the actual process of law making.
While there is a remote possibility that Sortition may produce an assembly that is not representative of the population, our current system is almost guaranteed to produce a non-representative assembly. Participation in the law making process is generally only available to people who are wealthy, who are in certain professions, and who are members of political parties, who are involved in community activism, and, most particularly, who are men. And because participation in elections is declining, it is not possible to say that assemblies chosen by elections accurately represent the wider population.
Someone who is undesirable to one person may be desirable to another. We live in a diverse society. Everyone is entitled to representation.

Another frequently expressed concern is that ordinary people, who do not have the support of established political parties, will not have the necessary expertise to perform the function of law making.

To offer this as a barrier to Sortition is a rejection of the most basic principle of democracy, that Government is of the people, by the people for the people. To state that the responsibility of law making can only rest with an elite is fundamentally undemocratic. It is an admission that we do not live in a democracy.
Elections do not guarantee that members of the assembly have sufficient expertise to carry out the function of law making. The election of a member to an assembly is a measure of their popularity, not their ability.
The process of law making, in a system where assembly members are chosen by elections or by Sortition, is dependent on the existence of a competent and experienced civil service, who can provide advice, data and context to the members of the assembly in their deliberations over a particular decision. There is no difference in elections and Sortition in this regard.

People who doubt the viability of Sortition will argue that political parties are necessary to provide long term vision and to frame the direction of legislation, and that this would not exist if members of the assembly were chosen by lottery.

Sortition does not bar or remove the need for political parties. Political parties would still exist in a system where the assembly was chosen by lottery. They would be able to formulate their long term vision and policies and present that to the assembly members for support. If a majority of the assembly members thought that a particular legislative proposal was worthy, they would be able to vote to pass it. Similarly, other groups or political parties would be able to appeal to the assembly not to pass a particular piece of legislation.
In theory, political parties offer a vision based on a particular ideology, but in practice they more frequently react to public opinion and media commentary. The ability to implement long term change is also limited by their requirement to seek a new mandate a regular intervals.

Checks and Balances

Sortition was first practiced in the ancient city of Athens in and around 500 BC. Like us, ancient Athenians had lots of concerns about the random nature of Sortition, so they devised a system of checks and balances to ensure that the people chosen exercised their duty responsibly. The principles that guided them are just as applicable now.

We will refer to persons chosen in the lottery as drawees.

We can consider these checks and balances before the appointment of the drawee, during the appointment of the drawee, and after the appointment of the drawee.

Before

All candidates have to volunteer for service. Participants are not simply drawn from the wider public.

Candidates have to make a contribution to society to demonstrate their commitment. This can be a payment to a registered charity or participation in community service. Registered political parties would also be able to nominate candidates.

Candidates have to be able to demonstrate their citizenship with official documentation.

A person who has been convicted of tax evasion, corruption or an indictable criminal offence in the previous 10 years would be not be eligible for candidature.

During

Drawees who did not attend the Dail with sufficient regularity would be required to surrender their place in the Dail to the next candidate drawn from the register of candidates.

Drawees would be paid a salary, but would not be able to earn income in excess of 120% of that salary during their appointment. Drawees who are unable to meet this requirement would be required to invest their excess income in a State bond. Any drawee who was found to have breached this rule would be required to surrender their place to the next candidate drawn from the register of candidates. In each year, a lottery would be held to select 20% of drawees for audit of their income.

A drawee who has been convicted of tax evasion, corruption or an indictable criminal offence during their term would be required to surrender their place to the next candidate drawn from the register of candidates.

A drawee would be forced to surrender their place in the Dail if a super majority of both the Dail and the Seanad passed a motion to remove that drawee, subject to the power of veto on the part of the President.

After

Drawees who complete a term in the Dail would be awarded a title (eg “Teachta Dala”) after their term was over. Their name would be added to a register of drawees, and be inscribed on a national monument. Any subsequent Dail would have the power, by super majority, to remove a drawee from the register and the inscription on the national monument.

Representative Government? Democracy? Oligarchy?

These are important terms to understand.

Representative Government

This is the academic definition of our current system of Government.

Voters elect representatives. Those representatives elect a Government. There is no direct contact between the Government and the voter. The Government is only required to communicate with and seek the approval of the person voters have elected as their representative.

Democracy

“Democracy” is what we inaccurately call our current system of Government.

What democracy actually is is direct participation on the part of the voter in decision making. Democracy is not elections. Elections are a system of representative government.

Direct Democracy

Direct Democracy is a system in which referendums are held to allow the wider population overrule the decisions of representatives, or to propose new laws.

Direct democracy suffers from the same flaws as Representative Government, in that it still allows the Oligarchy (see below) to control outcomes, as Direct Democracy is still based on voting.

That said, a system based on Sortition can contain elements of Direct Democracy. For instance, if a particular decision could not be made by the parliament, it could be referred to a referendum.

Oligarchy

This is the most important one.

Oligrachy is a system of power (ie Government) in which power effectively rests with a small number of people.

This is the most accurate description of our current system of Government. The “oligarchs” are the people who own and control the media, the people who fund political parties, and the political parties themselves (including non-registered political organisations who organise around “independent” politicians).

Oligarchy is not a conspiracy theory. It has not been foisted on us by evil or malicious forces. It is something we have allowed to develop through complacency.

And the final and key point is this:

Representative Government, or more precisely, any system based on elections, will always lead to Oligarchy. The only way to establish true democracy is to remove the system that allows Oligarchy to develop. The only way to remove the current system is to replace elections with Sortition.

Next: What is wrong with the current system?

 

 

Why is Sortition better than elections?

1. Election promises

Because an election is a popularity contest, getting elected means making promises, most of which are discarded after the candidate and their party is elected. This is hugely frustrating for voters, and undermines the credibility of the political system.

In Sortition, no promises are required, as every candidate has the same chance of being elected as every other candidate.

2. Political parties

Political parties are an essential feature of any system based on elections. To provide the electorate with relevant choices, politicians need to be organised in groups that can campaign during elections. This organisation is also required in the parliament, when one group of politicians governs and another provides opposition to whatever the group of governing politicians does and says. Parliamentary organisation is also needed to ensure that individual parliamentarians act in line with party policy, rather than according to their own views or beliefs, to underpin the stability of the sitting government.

There are certain advantages to this, but political parties are also breeding grounds for corruption. Membership of a party provides a conduit to those other members who govern, and decisions taken in this regard are invisible to the general public.

In Sortition, political parties can exist, but there is no need for them, and their power is limited to a far greater degree than under our current system. There are no elections, so no organisation around that activity is required. In parliament, members are free to vote how they choose, as the consequences of a vote being defeated does not undermine the Government, as the Government is chosen from all members of the parliament, rather than the political party with the most seats.

3. Corruption

No political system can guarantee against corruption. If an individual is given power, there will always be another individual willing to pay them to use that power by proxy.

Our current system of government, representative government, is particularly prone to corruption, because money is almost essential to political success. Representative government also encourages corrupt people to seek election, because success can be achieved with money. Elections allow people who want power most to obtain power, when in fact those are the people who should never be in power.

A public representative who obtains power via a lottery system would still be exposed to corrupt influence, but the incentive to be corrupt is greatly reduced. Money confers no advantage on public representatives appointed via Sortition, so there is nothing to be gained politically from taking money to act in a particular way.

4. Fairer and more diverse representation

Because of the nature of electoral politics, the people who are elected tend to come from a restricted subset of demographics, income brackets and professions.

Wealthier people tend to fair better. People who have been involved in trade unions tend to fair better. People in professional occupations (solicitors, doctors, accountants) tend to fair better. Teachers (who have time off during election campaigns) tend to fair better.

Conversely, mothers tend not to participate. People from low-income backgrounds tend not to participate. People in 9-to-5 jobs tend not to participate. Farmers tend not to participate. In fact, a huge portion of the average population is generally excluded from representation.

In Sortition, none of this is true. Anyone who wants to can add their name to the list of eligible candidates. No campaigning or money is required, and mothers, people on low incomes, 9-to-5ers and farmers are just as likely to be made members of parliament as anybody else.

5. Clientelism

Clientelism describes the phenomenon where elected public representatives act as advocates for their constituents who are faced with local issues. This is a particular problem in multi-seat constituencies, where each politician competes with every other politician to see who can provide the best “service”.

This is not why we elect public representatives. We elect public representatives to consider evidence pertaining to national issues and make decisions based on that evidence. The ability of a public representative to do this effectively is greatly curtailed if they have to spend half their time in their local area dealing with issues that should be dealt with by local agencies.

In Sortition, this problem doesn’t exist. There is no competition, so public representatives can focus entirely on national issues.

6. Electoral fraud / manipulation

In a system based on elections, significant resources have to be deployed to protect against fraud. Agencies have to be established to monitor spending, to ensure balance in the media, to ensure that polling stations are secure, to ensure that votes are counted correctly, to ensure that the electoral register is valid and accurate, to ensure that only people who are entitled to vote can vote. This costs a lot of money, and fraud and manipulation still occur.

In Sortition, the system is simple. People who want to be considered put their name on a list. All the names go into a hat, and a fixed number are drawn. The process takes no more than an hour, and once it is done in public, is virtually incorruptible.

7. Universal participation in the legislative process

In typical electoral systems, legislation is drafted by the government and passed by a majority of the government representatives in the parliament. Members of the parliament who are not members of the governing party suggest changes to the legislation, some sensible, some just to get their name in the papers, but these changes are almost universally ignored, as conceding to such changes is seen as an admission by the government party that the other parties have sensible things to say, which is then used by those parties when the next election comes around.

This means that a very large number of public representatives in a parliament have no input into legislation for the 4 to 5 years they spend in the parliament.

This isn’t a feature of Sortition. There is no government party, and no elections, so public representatives who put forward legislation can accept changes and improvement to legislation without having to worry about how this makes them look or how it impact on their electoral prospects.

8. Political geography

In order for voters to feel like their local areas are getting a fair deal in the distribution of resources, decisions around public spending are often made on the basis of electoral impact rather than actual need. This leads to systems that are disjointed and poorly planned, in which valuable resources are wasted.

In Sortition, there are no elections, so public representatives can consider decisions entirely on what matters, leading to more efficient systems that can be planned with a long term perspective.

9. Politicians Pay

Because elections are essentially a popularity contest, its a lot easier to succeed when you have money. The more football kits you sponsor, the more rounds you buy in the pub, the more donations you give to charity, the more ads you put in the paper etc etc the more popular you are amongst voters. That puts people who have less money, who are generally the people who need most representation, at a disadvantage. To re-balance this situation, elected politicians are paid well, to remove the temptation for them to obtain money from people who would seek to influence the way they act (ie corruption).

In Sortition, there is no competition. Everybody has the same chance of becoming a public representative as everybody else, so money is no advantage. People chosen to participate in the Dail on the basis of Sortition would be paid, but it wouldn’t be necessary to pay politicians as well as they are paid today.

10. Legitimacy

One of the most frequent criticisms levelled at elected politicians is that they are out of touch with ordinary people. This allows people to ignore and break laws more easily, in that they can question the legitimacy of the laws on the basis that the people making them do not understand their impact.

If the Dail were composed of “ordinary” people, there would be no question of laws not being legitimate.

Next: What is duffers and lunatics get picked?

What is wrong with the current system?

Opinions about Government vary widely.

Sortition Ireland does not offer a view on whether policy implemented by a particular Government is good or bad. Our interest in politics is in changing the system, not public policy.

Our concern is not that our tax system is fair, not that we are attractive location for inward investment, not that we have environmentally-sound policy, not that we have an effective health service.

These are issues that can be addressed by political groupings under whatever system of Government is in place at a given time.

Our concern is that our current system of Government, what we loosely refer to as “democracy”, but which is actually a system of representative government based on elections, is degrading, and that it could collapse, and that if there isn’t a viable alternative, people will surrender their power and freedom to extremists.

This is unlikely in the short term, but history teaches us that every system of Government that is based on the power of an elite (an oligarchy) will ultimately degrade into totalitarianism, usually when an economic shock to the system causes people to transfer their power away from moderate, centrist viewpoints.

This is precisely what happened in Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal in the early part of the 20th century. There is also evidence of the same trend in Europe today. In the backwash of the economic crisis of 2008-2012, several far-right and far-left political groupings have increased their support.

In the United States, the rise in support for a populist candidate like Donald Trump is also evidence of this trend. There are more nationalist, anti-EU MEPs in the European Parliament than ever before. The Fascist party, Golden Dawn, has acquired support of 10% of the electorate in Greece. In the United Kingdom, the anti-EU nationalist party, UKIP, won 13% of the vote in the 2015 General Election. Further and deeper shocks could easily accelerate this process.

It is also the case that participation in the electoral process is declining. In the Irish General Election of 1982, turnout was 72.9%. In the Irish General Election of 2016, turnout was 65.1%. Even in perhaps the most significant General Election ever, in 2011, when the State was effectively being run by the EU Commission and the IMF, less than 7 out of 10 people voted.

This general trend also masks a more worrying trend at local level. While nationwide participation is in decline, participation in areas that experience economic disadvantage is in rapid decline.

In the constituency of Dublin Central, which is home to many voters who depend on Local Authority housing and social welfare, the quota of votes required to be elected (which is a measure of turnout) has fallen from 7,413 in 1982 to just 5,922 in 2016. At that rate of decline, it is likely over the next 10 years that many constituencies will elect representatives even though less than half of eligible voters cast their ballots.

These trends are replicated right across the “democratic” world. Government legitimacy is based on the acceptance that government exists by will of the majority. As participation rates decline, and as the people who represent voters become more and more detached from them (and more and more part of the oligarchy), the easier it becomes morally for voters to detach themselves from the social contract that binds the Government to the people. A vacuum develops into which extremes like Ultra-nationalism and Communism are attracted.

Sortition Ireland exists to ensure that if that day comes to pass, voters will have an alternative that allows them to be governed without surrendering their freedom.

Next: Why is Sortition better than elections?

 

What if duffers and lunatics get picked?

A duffer is a term used to describe an incompetent or dull-witted person. A lunatic is an a term used to a person who is considered mentally ill, dangerous, foolish or unpredictable.

One of the most immediate arguments levelled at Sortition is that if you chose lawmakers by lot, the potential exists for “duffers” and “lunatics” to be appointed, who will not take the process seriously or who will seek to maliciously influence the process of law making.

This argument can be addressed at several levels.

1. The Theoretical Argument

Firstly, in any legislative assembly, chosen by elections or by Sortition, power rests with the assembly as a whole, not the individual. A single individual, or even a small group of individuals, cannot exert undue influence over the assembly.

Secondly, whether or not someone is a “duffer” or a “lunatic” is a matter of opinion. A representative who appears to one person as incompetent, disruptive or disinterested may not appear that way to someone else. To state that a person is incapable of participating in the process of law making on the basis of an opinion is not valid.

Thirdly, any system of law making must recognise that society is diverse. There are people in society who many people would consider to be incompetent, disruptive or disinterested, but those people are entitled to representation in exactly the same way as doctors, teachers and old age pensioners.

Finally, our current system of representative government does not protect against the election of people many would consider to be unfit for public office. In Ireland over the last 20 years, Dail seats have been won by people who have been convicted of tax fraud, who have openly admitted breaking the law, who have been convicted of drink driving, who have been found to be corrupt by tribunals of inquiry and who rarely turn up at Leinster House to exercise their parliamentary duty.

2. The Scientific Argument

A lottery is an exercise in probability. In any lottery, the outcome is influenced by the number of potential outcomes. The more potential outcomes, the greater the probability that the ultimate outcome will reflect the average make up of the population.

For example, if you have a large bowl containing 20 balls, of which half are red and half are blue, and you have to chose 10 balls, the probability that you will chose exactly 5 red balls and 5 blue balls is low.

However, if you have large bowl containing 2,000 balls, of which half are red and half are blue, and you have to chose 1,000 balls, the probability that you will chose exactly 500 red balls and 500 blue balls is still low, but the probability that you will chose close to 500 of each is much higher.

This is a scientific concept known as The Law of Large Numbers:

“A principle of probability and statistics which states that as a sample size grows, its mean will get closer and closer to the average of the whole population.”

This principle ensures taking a sample from a larger population size will reflect the average make-up of that population provided that both the sample and population are large enough.

In a system of Sortition, the list of candidates from which representatives would be chosen would be available for inspection by the public, and would be open for submission of candidates several years in advance of the lottery to chose representatives.

This would enable people to take a view on whether or not the list was representative of the population, and whether or not it contained too many “duffers” and “lunatics”. If someone formed the view that the list was not representative, or that it contained too many “duffers” and “lunatics”, that person could add their name to the list to reduce the statistical imbalance, and/or encourage others to do the same.

The most likely scenario is that the list would evolve over time until it contained a sufficiently large number of candidates such that the Law of Large Numbers would produce an outcome that accurately reflected the views and concerns of the current population.

3. The Practical Argument

But a lottery is still a lottery, and there can be no certainty. It is extremely unlikely that a lottery involving a large number of candidates would produce a result that included a majority of “duffers” and “lunatics”, but in the event that it did, any decision of a Dail comprised of a majority of “duffers” and “lunatics” would still be subject to review by the President and the test of constitutionality as exercised by the Supreme Court.

A system of sortition would also include checks and balances to ensure the people chosen in the lottery would exercise their duty responsibly. For example, a representative who did not participate in the process of law-making would automatically lose their position and be replaced by another candidate from the list. A person convicted of a criminal offence would lose their position and be replaced by another candidate from the list. A full discussion of the checks and balances that would accompany a system of Sortition is available here, and a list of simple answers to common questions is available here.

The final point to make in this section is similar to the final point in the previous section. Our current system of representative government does not guarantee against the creation of a Dail that is not representative of the population. In fact, as political participation rates continue to decline, particularly among certain sections of society, it is far more likely that our current system will produce a non-representative Dail than a system based on Sortition.