Article by Eva Talmadge: “…Citizens’ assemblies, a phenomenon that is gaining in popularity around the globe, date back to ancient Athens, where legislative panels, courts and councils were chosen via random selection. In a practice known as sortition, Greek citizens over the age of 30 were enlisted to debate governmental matters from city finances to military strategy. More recently, citizens’ assemblies have convened to hammer out solutions to such issues as homelessness in Los Angeles, the allocation of a $5bn budget in Melbourne, Australia, and the longstanding ban on abortion in Ireland.
In 2017, after meeting over the course of five weekends for deliberation, an Irish citizens’ assembly came up with a recommendation to legalize the procedure. Sixty-six per cent of Irish voters later approved the referendum, ending more than four decades of fruitless political debate.
Modern citizens’ assemblies are typically convened by legislative bodies, which work alongside non-profit groups to reach out to large numbers of citizens at random – sending letters like the one Bajwa received in the mail – then sorting the respondents who express interest according to social and economic factors. The result is a group of people who are randomly selected and reflect the demographics of the population as a whole.
Sortition, a word that might evoke the next chapter in the Hunger Games franchise, offers a revived spin on democracy. Instead of leaving the decision-making up to elected officials, citizens’ assemblies can offer a special interests-free alternative to politics as we know it.
The system is not unlike jury duty. With facilitators in place to provide background information on the issue at hand and encourage everyone’s participation, the group meets over the course of several days to learn about a problem, hear from a range of stakeholders and experts, and come up with recommendations for new legislation…(More)”