Democracy by Sortition, Government by Lot

Personally, I am a strong sympathiser of democracy by sortition.

Historically, the main references to government by sortition refer to Classical Athens and the Florentine Republic in the Early Renaissance.

View of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Picture by jrgcastro on flickr.

For those interested in the Florentine experience, in general less known to the public, here’s a great draft paper [pdf] by Yves Sintomer that he presented during a meeting we had a couple of years ago at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio. In the paper, among other things, Yves describes the experience of the Florentine Republic and contrasts it with recent democratic innovations based on random selection. As to these recent experiments, alongside citizens’ juries,  probably one of the most studied experiments with sortition in recent history refers to British Columbia’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.

At a time when citizen participation is considered – at least in theory – an important part of the open government movement, those working in this sphere should pay particular attention to different methods of participant selection (e.g. self-selection, randomized) and what the prospects and limits for each of these different methods are.

An awesome read on this subject is the book Democratic Innovations by Graham Smith. Among other things, Graham looks at the impact that different  institutional designs (and methods of selection) have on the inclusiveness of participatory experiences.

If you are interested in sortition, a good resource to follow is the Equality by Log blog. In the blog I just came across an interesting presentation [PDF] by Yoram Gat on the subject of sortition compared to traditional (i.e. representative) democratic institutions.

Maybe after some of these readings you may become a sympathiser of government by lot as well.

Does access to information enhance accountability?

This paper [PDF] examines whether access to information enhances political accountability. Based upon the results of Brazil’s recent anti-corruption program that randomly audits municipal expenditures of federally-transferred funds, it estimates the effects of the disclosure of local government corruption practices upon the re-election success of incumbent mayors. Comparing municipalities audited before and after the elections, we show that the audit policy reduced the incumbent’s likelihood of re-election by approximately 20 percent, and was more pronounced in municipalities with radio stations. These findings highlight the value of information and the role of the media in reducing informational asymmetries in the political process. 

Ferraz, Claudio, and Frederico Finan. 2008. “Exposing Corrupt Politicians: The Effects of Brazil’s Publicly Released Audits on Electoral Outcomes.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 123(2): 703–45.

Technology and Politicians’ Promises

Increasingly popular, promise-tracking platforms are software solutions designed to track the extent to which elected officials fulfil their promises made during electoral campaigning. David Sasaki has written an interesting post about these “promise meters”. Given that we are still in the early stages of development of these innovations, a few considerations might be noteworthy.While the cases that David lists focus on candidates for the Executive (e.g. gubernatorial elections), for illustrative purposes I focus primarily – but not solely – on cases in the field of parliamentary informatics. That is, existing or potential solutions for tracking politicians’ promises in parliament.
As David mentions, promises are not always the best metric. This may become even more evident when we consider the issues of collective intelligence and deliberation. To clarify, let us think of parliaments in their simplest form. As the etymology itself indicates, parliaments are in their origin conceived as spaces of dialogue. Such a deliberative component, some might argue, is precisely the epistemic basis that justifies the existence of parliaments as such. From this perspective, the mechanism that leverages the knowledge dispersed amongst the different parliamentarians relies on i) exposure to diverging points of view, ii) the justification of arguments on a rational basis, and ii) the willingness of parliamentarians to change their positions and preferences. From this perspective, a parliament in which its members do not change their preferences may in fact be counterproductive. The same applies to actors from the Executive as they interact with actors from other branches (e.g. Legislative) and levels (e.g. sub-national) of government and society as a whole.
Another question refers to the object of promise-tracking software. Some examples may fall prey to focusing on politicians as opposed to political parties, neglecting the role played by electoral parties in politicians’ behavior. Such oversight is particularly undesirable in the context of electoral systems that tend to foster strong party organizations (e.g. proportional representation), where parties’ directives tend to guide political action more than any individual agenda. This is perhaps one of the reasons for which voting advice applications (VAAs) developed by political scientists, such as theEUProfiler, have structured their design around political parties.
Finally, one could argue that promise-tracking platforms are built under a normative assumption that privileges a “delegate model of representation” over a “party delegate model” or a “trustee model” of representation.  Unintentionally, the discussion surrounding promise-tracking software enters a lively – and still unsettled – debate in the field of political representation theory. Edmund Burke would have loved to be a part of it.
(originally posted on the World Bank’s IC4D Blog)

How New Media has Revolutionized Electoral Politics in the US

This paper [pdf] addresses the impact new media tools have on different segments of the electoral process in the United States. Specifically, it looks at  the impact new media has by providing information, influencing the news cycle and setting agendas, shaping public opinion, providing more fundraising opportunities, increasing political participation and youth voter turnout, and changing election results. This paper does so by drawing on systematic studies, data from the Pew Research Center, and case studies, specifically that of the 2008 Presidential Election. This analysis is unique in that it uses very current information, focusing on the 2008 election, as this was the first election in which new media was fully integrated into campaign strategies. It is also unique in that it analyzes several types of new media including social networks, blogging, campaign websites, and Internet fundraising. These findings suggest that new media does influence and shape the course of the electoral process in the United States through the six aspects of the electoral process presented in this paper.

Aronson, Elise D. (2012) “Cyber-Politics: How New Media has Revolutionized Electoral Politics in the United States,” Colgate Academic Review: Vol. 9, Article 7.

SurveyMonkey is inviting survey respondents to help predict the results of the next presidential elections in the US. Looks like an oversimplified version of prediction markets (pdf) for elections. For those who don’t know it, Marquis de Condorcet’s Jury Theorem, over 200 years old, was the starting point for all of this.   

EU Profiler: voting advice application for the 2009 EP elections

(originally posted here)

Here’s a link to a video about the EU Profiler, a Voting Advice Application for the 2009 European Parliamentary Elections.

The EU Profiler has been developed here at the European University Institute with the collaboration of a unique team of international researchers.

A bit more about the EU Profiler:

The EU Profiler is a Europe-wide Voting Advice Application (VAA) or a party profiling website for the European Parliament elections in June 2009. It is designed to help millions of European users and potential voters to discover their positions in the political landscape for the 2009 EP elections.

In order to help voters to make their own preferences explicit and position themselves in a ‘European political landscape’, the EU Profiler offers the users (or voters) an online questionnaire with 30 political statements on which they can indicate their level of agreement or disagreement. When they have completed the set of questions, the programme goes on to state which particular party is closest to the political preferences expressed by the user (voter). Therefore, the EU Profiler allows them to compare their preferences with the positions of all national, as well as, all European parties.

The EU Profiler will be available in all EU Member States in all their respective national languages and will be customized to each country’s national campaign context. The EP elections will also be simulated in a number of non-EU member countries such as Turkey, Croatia, Switzerland and Norway.

The EU Profiler has been developed by the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence which has a unique position to form an international team of social scientists (as the ”officers” of this group and many more). The EU Profiler combines the academic excellence of the EUI with the expertise and the experience of the Dutch company ‘Kieskompas’ and the Swiss consortium ‘NCCR Democracy/Politools (smartvote)’ which are the two leading developers of party/candidates profiling websites and voting advice applications.”