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Demarchy (also known as sortition) is rule by the randomly selected. Even though no modern country has ever adopted this form of government, randomness has been used as part of selecting leaders in the past. A similar system is often used to form juries as well. Citizens' panels are another form of modern day demarchy, even if only to a limited extent.


Sortition was particularly popular in medieval and early modern Italy as a system of government. For example, the electors for the Doge of Venice were selected in the following way:

Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge.[1]

Randomness, in this case, was to eliminate the possibilities of great families or politicking polluting the selection, thus ensuring the greatest possible Doge for the city.

Sortition was also used for a hundred years in ancient Athens to choose members of the legislative council.[2] Not only the Council of ancient Athens but lay judges (similar to jurors) were also chosen by lot.[3] A special machine was created to insure the lots were truly random and thus couldn't in any way be tampered with. In contrast, the Assembly was made up of any free male citizens who chose to appear (when a quorum was not present, the city watch rounded people up). Between 500 to 1501 jurors were selected by lot to serve. This made it practically impossible to bribe a sufficient number of jurors to influence the outcome of a trial.[3]

In ancient India, specifically in towns in Tamil-Nadu such as the village of Uttiramerur a system dubbed kuda-olai was used where candidates' names for the local council were written on palm-leaf and shoved into a pot for children to pick at random. The system was almost completely autonomous from royal control. Requirements for candidacy were strict and elitist. These requirements included such things as proficiency with the Vedas, ownership of taxable real estate, experience in business, and an age "between thirty and sixty," thus neatly setting up the conditions for a plutocracy. Term limits were set up requiring a three-year period of intermittency between sitting positions to be eligible for reelection and relationships between members was prohibited.[4]

Legislative and citizens' panels[edit]

Various political theorists have proposed use of legislative panels, groups of randomly selected citizens who study proposed legislation, maybe call witnesses, and vote whether to approve or not.[5] They can be selected by random sampling, possibly with additional measures to ensure diversity.[6] Often these panels are considered as advisors rather than having sole authority to approve or veto legislation. Canada commonly uses non-binding Citizens' Reference PanelsWikipedia to advise on decisions. Edmonton has used Citizen's Panels, selected in a process designed to match community diversity, to assess proposals and advise on various issues.[7] Other local governments have a citizen's panel that is merely a group of people who volunteered and are used for opinion polling, without any attempt at random or representative selection.

Jury selection[edit]

Juries are usually procured from a randomly selected group of eligible citizens (called a "jury pool") to potentially serve on trial. Potential jurors are selected from ID/license renewals and voter enrollments, and then a summons for jury duty to send to eligible jurors. Those selected must meet the required qualifications to be eligible for jury duty (ie live in the district where the trial is taking place and not be a convicted felon). The jurors are then divided into smaller groups and taken before a judge for a questionnaire.[8]

The jurors will be informed about the type of case the trial will be and then challenged by both lawyers and the judge to see if they are truly capable of being impartial (or at least as impartial as it is humanly possible to be). This is called voir dire, meaning "speak the truth" in French. Jurors will be excluded if a lawyer can reasonably prove that a juror is incapable of being impartial; whether through kinship, prior experience or whatever. Once the process is finished, those found eligible will sit in trial, and those found not sent home.[8]

See Also[edit]


  1. 1911 Britannica Encyclopedia entry on the Doge
  2. Why not select politicians as randomly as jurists?, Sydney Morning Herald. April 18, 2016, republished on
  3. 3.0 3.1 Criminal procedure in ancient Athens and the Trial of Socrates
  4. The Encyclopedia of Hinduism
  5. By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy Through Deliberative Elections, John Gastil, University of California Press, 2000
  6. Citizens' Panel,
  7. Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges, Edmonton City Government web page
  8. 8.0 8.1 jury selection at Cornell Law School