Citizens’ Assemblies

Greeks in the ancient Athens, and some Italian states in the Renaissance period, applied a different approach allowing citizens to have a direct impact on political decisions. It involved selecting randomly communities’ representatives (men only) by drawing a lot, which is why it was sometimes called allotment or a sortition. Such randomly selected citizens took an oath that they were not acting under bribes. The logic behind that system of electing political representatives originates from the idea that “power corrupts.” That’s the main reason why a random selection was initially used. But it was also used as a method for appointing political officials, regarded as a principal characteristic of a true democracy. Today, most people, at least in the Anglo-Saxon world, experience such a selection process at least once in their lifetime, when they are randomly selected to serve as a member of a jury in municipal and national courts.

In recent years, there has been a growing support for a new political decision-making body called a Citizens’ Assembly, to which delegates have been randomly selected in a similar way as in the ancient Greece. They are generally focused on rare, not too complex political issues, such as electoral reform or gay rights. The assumption is that an assembly composed of randomly selected citizens based on a variety of criteria such as age, gender, socio-economic class, ethnic group, geographical location, or political preferences, would make more rational decisions in an informed and deliberative setting, than would have been the case in a referendum.