What Sortition Can and Cannot Do

Keith Sutherland, Department of Politics, University of Exeter;

In recent years a number of writers have argued that sortition (the random selection of citizens for public office by lot) should augment the institutions of electoral democracy, but there is little agreement on the precise role that it should play. At one end of the spectrum James Fishkin (Fishkin, 2009) has argued that sortive bodies should be limited to an advisory or educative role; whereas radical democrats have argued that sortive bodies can do anything an elected chamber currently does (Callenbach & Phillips, 2008; O’Leary, 2006).

In this paper I argue that sortition could only serve an aggregative judgment role and could therefore only ever be one element in a mixed constitution. Any attempt to extend its use beyond this aggregate judgment function undermines any claim that sortition may have to democratic legitimacy.

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