January 20, 2024 Deborah W.A. Foulkes
January 19, 2024 Deborah W.A. Foulkes
January 18, 2024 Deborah W.A. Foulkes
December 21, 2023 Deborah W.A. Foulkes
January 20, 2021 Patrick L Scully, Participedia Team
January 19, 2021 dgrant
July 11, 2020 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
February 2, 2019 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
January 18, 2019 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
November 13, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby

Sortition is the selection of candidates by lot, and was used in ancient Athenian democracy. When selecting participants for citizens' assemblies, the random selection is followed by stratification of candidates according to demographics like age, gender, location, and education.

Problems and Purpose

While typically defined as the 'drawing of lots', sortition, as it is used in the context of government or public participation, uses stratified random sampling so that the demographic composition of the sample matches that of the population. Sortition thus attempts to overcome the potential for one or more demographics to be over-represented in a purely random sample. Achieving representation is important because demographic factors or characteristics such as socio-economic status, race, and gender, can be more or less advantageous to an individual's attainment of public office or ability to participate in politics. [1]

In general, the final selection of participants through stratified random sampling is proportionately representative of the population on at least three dimensions — age, geographic location or area of residence, and highest level of education — and is composed of half men and half women.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to the stratified random sampling technique:

"Advantages of stratified random sampling

  • Stratified random sampling gives you a systematic way of gaining a population sample that takes into account the demographic make-up of the population, which leads to stronger research results.
  • The method is fair for participants as the sample from each stratum can be randomly selected, meaning there is no bias in the process.
  • As participant grouping must be exhaustive and mutually exclusive, stratified random sampling removes variation and the chances of overlap between each stratum.
  • Lastly, it helps with efficient and accurate data collection. Having a smaller, more relevant sample to work with means a more manageable and affordable research project.

Disadvantages of stratified random sampling

  • Researchers may hold prior knowledge of the population’s shared characteristics beforehand, which increases the risk for selection bias when strata are defined.
  • There is more administration to do to conduct this process, so researchers must include this extra time and order.
  • When randomly sampling each stratum, the resulting sample may not be representative of the full population. It is worth reviewing the results to see if the sample is proportional to the whole population.
  • Once you have the final sample, data analysis of the information becomes more complicated to take into account the layers of the stratum."[2]

Origins and Development 

Sortition has a long history, going back at least to Ancient Athens, where selection by lot (from among all free, male citizens) was the principal way courts and councils were filled. For hundreds of years, it was considered a fundamental aspect of democracy; it wasn't until long after the French and American revolutions, as universal suffrage slowly became widespread, that the term "democracy" was re-christened to mean electoral democracy.[3]

How it Works

Sortition involves the drawing of a representative, random sample of participants for inclusion in a forum of governance. Individuals selected through sortition are typically invited to make decisions or collective judgment through an informed, deliberative, and fair process. The key aspect of sortition compared to other techniques of participant recruitment or selection, is the equal probability of any person being chosen for the assembly. Practitioners who adopt sortition for their event or intiative do so as a way to ensure the final group selected is half women, half men, with proportional representation for the young and old, and across all geographical areas and educational levels. It may also include an attitudinal stratification criterion related to the topic of the assembly, e.g. acceptance of the science behind climate change vs. climate denialism for a climate assembly.[4]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

In his presentation at the 67th Political Science Association Annual International Conference, University of Lausanne's Dmititri Courant makes the following conclusions when comparing sortition to three other forms of selection: election, nomination, and certification: 

  1. "If we want representatives who look like the represented, in the logic of “descriptive representation”, we shall choose sortition, getting closer to the democratic ideal of “government by the People”. If we prefer socially distinct elites we shall choose election, which is an aristocratic view. If we think that leaders should choose the representatives, we shall adopt nomination, in an oligarchic perspective. If we want qualified representatives we shall select through certification, leaning towards technocracy."[5]
  2. "The main experiments of sortition have been either a jury from 12 to 30 citizens, or a larger assembly, 160 in British Columbia and 1 200 in Iceland. Those conferences and assemblies always had a consulting role and never made the final decision, this one being either submitted to the elected parliament, or directly proposed to referendum...[S]ortition is almost always proposed as a complement to add along with election and not as a complete replacement; there is almost no one for a total suppression of election."[6]
  3. "History shows us that in every political system based on sortition, there always was short mandate and a rotation principle. Whether it is in Ancient Greece, Medieval Italy, the Crown of Aragon, the popular jury or even recent mini-publics, the terms of randomly selected representatives are always short. Lots and short term allows a quick rotation of the representatives; on the contrary, election favour re-elections, certification is easily passed by the aristoï, and nomination maintains small circles of initiates. Temporality is crucial to avoid “oligarchisation”. The strongest historical example mixing sortition, short term and rotation to avoid political professionalization is Athenian Democracy, where the members of 500 Council only allowed a single one year term throughout their lives."[7]
  4. Regardless of the selection method, "[r]ecall revocation by popular referendum, citizens’ control during the term, serious accountability and sanctions should be basic institutions of a democratic system."[8]
  5. "Regardless of the mode of selection or the sphere, there is always a delimitation of the “relevant political body” aiming to determine which criteria allows you to be part of the “pool”, to be concerned with the selection process...For most of sortition experiences and theories, the pool for the lottery consists of all the citizens of the given geographical constituency, but it is sometimes even more inclusive."[9]  

See Also 

Civic Lottery 



[1] Dunlop, Tim. “Voting Undermines the Will of the People – It’s Time to Replace It with Sortition | Tim Dunlop.” The Guardian. The Guardian, October 14, 2018.

[2] Stratified random sampling and how to use it

[3] "The History of Sortition", Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College.

[4] De Gruyter Handbook of Citizens' Assemblies, Reuchamps et al.

[5] Dmititri Courant, "Thinking Sortition: Modes of selection, deliberative frameworks and democratic principles," Paper presented at the PSA 67th Annual International Conference – “Politics in Interesting Times”, Technology & Innovation Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, 10 – 12 April 2017, 10. Retrieved from

[6] Courant, " Thinking Sortition," 10-11.

[7] Courant, " Thinking Sortition," 12.

[8] Courant, " Thinking Sortition," 12-13. 

[9] Courant, " Thinking Sortition," 13. 

External Links

John Gastil and Erik Olin Wright: Legislature by Lot

Antoine Vergne: Citizens’ participation using sortition – A practical guide to using random selection to guarantee diverse democratic participation