Kleroteria: A Democratic Innovation for Randomized Representation

In the quest for enhancing democracy and ensuring fair representation, various innovative systems have been proposed throughout history. One such system is the kleroterion, a concept rooted in ancient Greek democracy. The kleroteria, or “random selection machine,” was an instrument used to randomly select citizens for various public positions, such as jury duty, legislative bodies,…

In the quest for enhancing democracy and ensuring fair representation, various innovative systems have been proposed throughout history. One such system is the kleroterion, a concept rooted in ancient Greek democracy. The kleroteria, or “random selection machine,” was an instrument used to randomly select citizens for various public positions, such as jury duty, legislative bodies, and administrative roles. In this article, we will delve into the history, mechanics, and contemporary relevance of kleroteria as a democratic tool.

Historical Background

The concept of kleroteria finds its origins in the Athenian democracy of ancient Greece. Athenians believed that random selection for public positions would minimize corruption, elitism, and bias. Kleroteria were large, urn-like devices where the names of eligible citizens were placed, and a mechanism was used to randomly draw names, ensuring impartiality in selecting individuals for public service.

Mechanics of Kleroteria

The kleroterion was a physical apparatus composed of a series of compartments or tubes, each containing the names of eligible citizens. To ensure fairness, the process required several steps:

a. Citizen Enlistment: All eligible citizens would voluntarily register their names for consideration in the kleroteria. This registration could be open to all or limited to specific criteria, such as age, citizenship status, or other relevant factors.

b. Random Selection: Once the registration period closed, the names of eligible citizens would be written on small tokens, typically made of wood or clay. These tokens were then placed into the kleroterion’s compartments.

c. Random Drawing: The mechanism within the kleroterion, often employing a crank or a rotating drum, would be operated to randomly select the tokens from the compartments. The individuals whose names were drawn would be chosen for the designated public positions.

Application in Ancient Greece

The kleroteria played a significant role in various aspects of Athenian society, including:

a. Jury Selection: In the Athenian legal system, juries were composed of hundreds of randomly selected citizens. They played a crucial role in the administration of justice, ensuring fairness and avoiding undue influence.

b. Legislative Bodies: The Athenian democracy employed sortition, the random selection of citizens, to fill legislative bodies like the Council of 500. This ensured that political power was not concentrated solely in the hands of an elite few, but rather distributed among a larger segment of the population.

Contemporary Relevance

While the use of kleroteria declined with the fall of ancient Greece, its principles have garnered renewed interest in modern times. Proponents argue that kleroteria can address several contemporary democratic challenges:

  • Citizen Participation: Random selection through kleroteria could help counter the apathy and disengagement often associated with electoral politics. By involving citizens directly in decision-making processes, kleroteria can reinvigorate democratic participation.
  • Representative Democracy: Kleroteria can provide a more accurate representation of the diverse voices within society. Unlike electoral systems that often favor political elites or well-funded campaigns, random selection ensures the inclusion of a broader range of perspectives.
  • Anti-Corruption Measures: By removing the need for campaign fundraising and decreasing the influence of special interests, kleroteria can mitigate corruption risks associated with money in politics.
  • Expertise and Deliberation: Kleroteria can be coupled with deliberative processes, allowing randomly selected citizens to engage in informed discussions and decision-making. This integration ensures that decisions benefit from both diversity and the expertise of the citizen body.

Modern Experiments with Kleroteria

In recent years, there have been experiments with kleroter. Here are further details on modern experiments with kleroteria:

  • Citizens’ Assemblies: One notable application of kleroteria is the use of citizens’ assemblies. These assemblies bring together randomly selected citizens to deliberate on specific issues and propose recommendations. Countries like Ireland and Belgium have employed this method to address complex issues such as constitutional reform, climate change, and healthcare policy. The random selection ensures diverse representation and encourages thoughtful deliberation.
  • Sortition in Legislative Bodies: Some advocates argue for the introduction of sortition in existing legislative bodies. They propose allocating a certain number of seats to be filled through random selection, alongside traditional elections. This hybrid model aims to combine the benefits of both elected representatives and randomly selected citizens, providing a more balanced and inclusive decision-making process.
  • Policy Evaluation: Kleroteria can also be utilized for policy evaluation purposes. Randomly selected citizens can be involved in assessing the effectiveness and impact of existing policies, providing valuable feedback and recommendations to policymakers.
  • Public Administration: Another potential application of kleroteria is in the selection of public administrators and bureaucrats. By randomly appointing individuals to administrative positions, the system can reduce favoritism, nepotism, and corruption. Randomly selected administrators are also more likely to represent the interests of the general public rather than specific interest groups.
  • Local Governance: Kleroteria can be implemented at the local level to enhance citizen participation and decision-making in community matters. Randomly selecting citizens for local councils or committees can ensure that decisions are made by a diverse group of individuals who genuinely represent the community’s interests.

Criticisms and Challenges

Despite its potential benefits, kleroteria also faces criticism and challenges:

  • Lack of Expertise: Random selection may result in individuals without specific expertise or knowledge being chosen for important positions. Critics argue that this could lead to decisions made without adequate understanding or expertise in complex matters.
  • Accountability: Unlike elected representatives who face regular elections, randomly selected citizens may not have the same level of accountability or incentives to act in the best interest of the public. Mechanisms would need to be in place to ensure accountability and prevent misuse of power.
  • Implementation Challenges: Implementing kleroteria on a larger scale would require robust logistical infrastructure, public awareness, and resources. Overcoming these challenges would be essential to ensure the system’s effectiveness and acceptance.


The concept of kleroteria, originating from ancient Greece, offers a unique approach to democratic governance by employing random selection for public positions. Its contemporary relevance lies in its potential to enhance citizen participation, promote diverse representation, and mitigate corruption risks. Modern experiments with kleroteria, such as citizens’ assemblies and sortition in legislative bodies, showcase its practical applications. However, the system also faces challenges regarding expertise and accountability. As societies strive for more inclusive and equitable democratic systems, exploring and adapting the principles of kleroteria could contribute to shaping the future of democratic governance.

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