A Sortition Manifesto

To the people of the world,

My name is Sortitia, and I am running for president of my country, Anyland. We are a small country, but we have a mature parliamentary democracy with a 100 person legislature. Nevertheless, we are hopelessly gridlocked due to excessive polarization.

I am not running on any particular platform. Instead, I am running to take conflict out of politics. My legislative plan is simple. Once a month, I will define a problem for the legislature to solve. But rather than ask the legislature to come up with a single bill, I will instead ask them to generate multiple options. Each member will be able to cosponsor one and only one bill to address the problem. Any bill that gets at least seventeen cosponsors will be advanced to a citizens’ assembly, guaranteeing at most five bills.

A citizens’ assembly will be chosen to rate these bills after they have been published. This assembly will, like a jury, be chosen randomly, with mandatory participation. They will be paid exactly the salary of any other legislator for the duration of their service, so the pay will be attractive to most of our citizens. They will have sufficient time and resources to investigate all of the bills, including access to staff. But they will deliberate privately, to avoid group think.

When the assembly ends, each member will rank all of the bills in order of preference, in a secret ballot. In addition, there will be a “no change” option if citizens feel that none of the bills is an improvement. The winner will be aggregated from all of the votes. Under the constitution of Anyland, only the legislature can enact a law. But the rules of the legislature will be changed to require an up-or-down vote on the winning bill. I promise to hold this vote in all cases, and to advocate for passage of whichever bill is favored by the citizens’ assembly.

I have watched attempts at using citizens’ assemblies around the world, and found them wanting. The French Convention on Climate Change started with a good problem statement; namely, to reduce carbon emissions by 40% in a spirit of social justice. But then they just dumped this mandate on a citizens’ assembly without any further structure. That’s unfair to them. Throwing people in a room together and telling them to solve a huge problem is a fool’s errand, both for elected politicians and for ordinary citizens.

Instead, I want ordinary citizens to be jurors issuing a verdict. Our legislature is polarized because its members are competing over control, not policy. I want to break this cycle. Under my presidency, there will be no fight for control. Every member of parliament will have the same rights to propose legislation as every other member, irrespective of party, and the citizens of Anyland will have the final say.

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