Should political leaders be elected to office by sortation?

26 September 2023

Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, writing for The New York Times, suggests sortation, a method of selecting public office holders in Ancient Greece, be given consideration:

People expect leaders chosen at random to be less effective than those picked systematically. But in multiple experiments led by the psychologist Alexander Haslam, the opposite held true. Groups actually made smarter decisions when leaders were chosen at random than when they were elected by a group or chosen based on leadership skill.

Sortition is election by lottery, as Encyclopaedia Britannica explains. While some people “elected” to office may be lacking in a certain degree of experience, they are said to feel a strong sense of responsibility, and take a diligent approach their duties.

Sortition, election by lot, a method of choosing public officials in some ancient Greek city-states. It was used especially in the Athenian democracy, from which most information about the practice is derived. With few exceptions, all magistrates were chosen by lot, beginning with the archons in 487–486 BC; likewise the Boule (council) of 500 and the juries of the law courts were chosen by lot. The practice of sortition obviated electoral races and provided for the regular turnover of officeholders.