Election by Lot, Social Choice Theory
"Election by Lot",
"Social Choice Theory"
My contributions to the International Encyclopedia of Political Science
(eds. B. Badie, D. Berg-Schlosser, L. Morlino), Sage, 2010.
Peter Stone said...
Dear Professor Colomer:
Thank you for alerting me to your recent encyclopedia entries. I was particularly intrigued by the entry on “Election by Lot.” I belong to an international working group on random selection known as the Kleroterians. A few minutes ago, I posted about your article on our group’s blog, which can be found at http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/
(We also have a Facebook page.)
As I noted on the blog, I was particularly intrigued by some of the examples you provided of sortition. I had heard vague statements about the Barcelona example before, although I’ve never seen an (English-language) source on the subject. (I’ve heard similar claims made about politics in the Basque region, but again without any solid sources.) But the examples from nineteenth-century Spain and Spanish Latin America were completely new to me. Can you by any chance recommend any sources on these topics? Regrettably, I don’t read Spanish, so English-language sources would be particularly valuable.
I was interested to know more about why you think that sortition goes hand in hand with decision-making “by broad consensus or unanimity.” I don’t see any such pattern in the extant usage of the lot. Athenian juries used simple majority rule; Venice used majority or supermajority rule. It’s only the modern Anglo-American jury that seems to require unanimity, and that might well be regarded as an outlier. (Melissa Schwartzberg is working on a project that is highly critical of the unanimity requirement.)
Also, I am highly skeptical of the claim that rotation and random selection serve similar purposes. It seems to me that random selection has a quality (unpredictability) that rotation can never have. And it seems like some of the other goals you describe (preventing the emergence of a closed elite, enabling mass participation) depend at least as much on other features of the decision-making procedures (like short terms of office) as they do on either random selection or rotation. I actually compare rotation and random selection at some length in my forthcoming book The Luck of the Draw. I’m attaching the prospectus of the book; I’d be happy to share more of the manuscript with you if you are interested.
Dear Professor Stone,
Thanks very much for your message.
My encyclopedia article is derived from previous work on the topic, as included in my books Political Institutions (Oxford UP 2001), pp. 17-29, 71-80, and edited Handbook of Electoral System Choice (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2004), pp. 20-25 (Intro also available at http://works.bepress.com/josep_colomer/3), where there are many more biblio references. For Barcelona, there a few sources in Catalan and Spanish and at least one in French (Claude Carrère 1967), also mentioned by Jon Elster in Solomonic Judgments (1989); for Spain and Hispanic America, also several sources in Spanish, including especially Antonio Annino’s works, but some allusions in English in Eduardo Posada-Carbó, Elections Before Democracy (1996).
Regarding some of the points you raise, I am not referring to consensus or unanimity among the selected by sortition, but among the (s)electors; that is, in many cases a broad assembly or ‘harangue’ making decisions by acclamation or near-unanimity went hand in hand with the selection by sortition of delegates from that assembly, even if afterwards the selected few could make decisions by majority.
I agree that the unpredictability of sortition is not matched by rotation, but rotation nevertheless prevents the formation of a closed elite.
Peter Stone said...
If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that there might be widespread agreement in a polity that a certain decision ought to be entrusted to a randomly-selected body, even if there is widespread disagreement regarding the decision itself. Is that right?
Well, not exactly. In the historical cases I am referring to and many others, the assembly was able to make decisions by broad consensus or near-unanimity on substantive policy (say, taxes, war and peace, immigration etc), and then delegated the execution of those decisions to a set of people selected by lotteries. These few selected might form a council or board able to make decisions by majority. The assumption for this institutional design is that for the community as a whole it was not difficult to make broad or near-unanimity decisions because there were broad agreements or highly consensual preferences.
Alternatively, in large states and modern complex societies there are more issues with disagreements and controversial policy proposals which are submitted to collective decisions, or less social consensus, and then political parties are formed. Each political party proposes a policy for each issue. Decision-making is transferred from citizens to the few elected by voting on the basis of previously stated policy proposals, not by lots.
So one could summarize: in harmonic, consensual communities: decisions by near-unanimity and selection of delegates by lots. In complex, conflictual societies: political party elections. I am not saying one might like to live more in the former or the latter type of collectivity, but this is how I see the significant differences. Hope this may help.