Ancient Sparta used range voting... sort of

By Brad Porter.

This page is based on the book

James S. Fishkin: The Voice of the People: Public Opinion & Democracy, Yale University Press 1995

Previously to the passage we quote, J.S.Fishkin goes into detail about the Athenian Assembly model in Greece, which was an example of how to conduct representation in a large city-state that in particular inspired the USA's founding fathers. It was based on random selection of citizens to serve as legislators, and an assembly wherein a huge chunk of the population literally got together in a massive group and hammered out the issues of governance.

FISHKIN QUOTE: Consider a second ancient model of democracy, very different from the extended debate in the Athenian Assembly or its citizens.

In ancient Sparta, members of the Council were elected by a method called The Shout. The order in which candidates to the Council were considered was determined by lot [i.e. by a clearly-random process]. [Hence] this order was not known to the impartial evaluators who were seated in another room with writing tablets. The evaluators' job was simply to assess the loudness of the cheering each candidate received when he walked in front of the assembled throng. The candidate receiving the loudest shouts and applause was deemed the winner.

Missing in the Spartan method was the entire social context of careful debate and deliberative argument fostered by the Athenian institutions of the Assembly, the citizens' juries, the legislative commissions, and the Council. Aristotle dismissed the Spartan "applaudometer" as childish. Yet if we ask which model of ancient democracy we have come closer to realizing in our modern quest for direct democracy, we must concede that there are ways in which the Spartan model is closer than the Athenian to contemporary practices.

About Sparta

Historians disrespect Sparta's voting system... but maybe not deservedly

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