Sortition for SA


Michael Foley ’26 is an economics major and finance minor. He is a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity, the Institute for Integrative Conservation and various other clubs whose email lists he never unsubscribed from. In his free time, he enjoys reading and playing lousy basketball. Contact him at

Grant Yoon ’27 is a prospective English major. He enjoys writing poetry for the campus literary magazine, the Gallery, and reading whatever books have a good vibe to them (currently on Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea).  He also likes sitting by large bodies of water, drinking lots of coffee and overthinking movies, songs and things in general. Contact him at

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own.

Student Assembly officials shouldn’t be elected, they should be randomly selected. This somewhat radical idea has roots in ancient Athens where, for centuries, public officials were chosen via sortition. Sortition is the selection of public officials by lottery rather than election. We know, it sounds like an insane idea, but bear with us. Our goal with this article is not to convince you that sortition is a perfect system that should be implemented everywhere, we haven’t even convinced ourselves of that, but rather that it is a system with enough merit to be worth trying, and that the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly offers the perfect laboratory within which we can test out the concept. 

Our argument for sortition at the College boils down to this: randomly selected legislators would govern more effectively and promote a more inclusive culture surrounding student government on this campus. 

Our current system of elections suffers from one major issue: it does not necessarily select for the best or most representative legislators, it selects for the best campaigners, all of whom self-selected for consideration. Elections for freshman class Student Assembly representatives begin only a few short weeks after the start of classes. At this time, most students are still getting oriented to college life and the last thing on their minds is student government. As a result, the candidates in these initial elections often share similar interests, personalities, backgrounds and goals. Many have prior experience with student government and likely view SA as a stepping stone toward their post-grad ambitions. This is problematic because it alienates students from their representatives and results in legislatures that do not reflect the diversity of thought and background found on our campus. Evidence of this alienation can be found in the interest, or lack thereof, in SA happenings. While there is a general murmur of excitement around election season, people don’t feel connected to SA unless they are one of the few students actively involved. There is a lack of trust regarding the authenticity of SA initiatives: to what extent are  they resume-padding, or otherwise using their position just for show? Since the motivations of SA officials are questioned, their ability to effect change is greatly limited. A sortition-based system would result in an assembly that, by nature of its diversity, would feel much more legitimate and accessible. Randomly selecting about 20 representatives (or more) each year would expand the reach and relevance of SA on campus; people would have a reason to care if their friend, or someone from their walk of campus, was organizing an event rather than an elected official they’ve spoken to just once. Sortition would allow students who might otherwise never consider running for office to get involved, bringing new perspectives to the table. Type-A personalities certainly have a place in politics, but theirs should not be the only ones. 

While some might say that the self-selection inherent to campaigns ensures that our legislators are those most interested in devoting time to SA, we’d argue that this interest is actually a bad thing. If the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that SA has become a highly politicized institution that takes itself too seriously. The recent election(s) included alleged misinformation campaigns, an appeal of election results and a Review Board opinion that cited the Hatch Act. Given recent events, it is hard to imagine that within SA, pursuit of personal ambition has not come at the expense of transparency, relatability and effective governance. In a sortition-based system, the ambitions of legislators are limited to the impact that they can make through policy. The goalposts shift from winning campaigns to making a positive impact and proving oneself worthy of selection. Studies suggest that randomly selected leaders govern more effectively for this very reason. 

Now, we’ll admit, sortition is not a perfect system. In fact, despite what our clickbait intro suggests, we do not believe we should eliminate elected representatives. Instead, we think we should augment them with the addition of a new legislative body consisting of randomly-selected student legislators. Such a body would bring many of the benefits of sortition to the student government process and would provide a great opportunity to research the efficacy of a randomly-selected legislature. Such experiments are not unprecedented. Countries like Ireland, Iceland, Canada and Bolivia have all experimented with sortition. However, despite its growing popularity abroad, sortition has yet to make a major impression on academic and political circles in the United States. SA provides a low-stakes environment in which we can test out the idea and introduce it to American politicians, researchers and the general public. The decisions we make as students can have real-world implications: If the College were to implement sortition, it would make headlines. Hundreds of years ago, the earliest alumni of the College discussed revolutionary ideas that changed the course of American politics. I think it’s time we continued our Alma Mater’s tradition — this time without rampant elitism and bigotry. 


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