Making direct democracy deliberative through random assemblies

John Gastil, Robert Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Direct-democratic processes have won popular support but fall far short of the standards of deliberative democracy. Initiative and referendum processes furnish citizens with insufficient information about policy problems, inadequate choices among policy solutions, flawed criteria for choosing among such solutions, and few opportunities for reflection on those choices prior to decision making. We suggest a way to make direct democracy more deliberative by grafting randomly selected citizen assemblies onto existing institutions and practices. After reviewing the problems that beset modern direct-democratic elections and the long history of randomly selected citizen assemblies, we propose five different varieties of randomly constituted citizen bodies-Priority Conferences, Design Panels, Citizens' Assemblies, Citizens' Initiative Reviews, and Policy Juries. After selecting members through stratified random sampling of citizens, each of these assemblies would operate at a different stage of the legislative process, from initial problem identification through approval of a finished ballot measure. Highly structured procedures guided by professional moderators and featuring expert testimony on policy and legal matters would help to ensure deliberative quality, and careful institutional designs would make each body politically powerful. In the end, these citizen bodies would be likely to address the deliberative deficit of direct democracy and better achieve the public's desired policy objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-281
Number of pages29
JournalPolitics and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations


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