Beyond the Ballot Box: Strengthening Democracy with Citizen Participation

While elections are essential, they fail to guarantee governments that effectively reflect the people’s will. Citizens may vote, but their voices often feel unheard. A robust civic participation system is needed to fill this gap and claim popular sovereignty beyond elections.

We propose to spread tools that are usually underrated, like referendums, popular initiatives, petitions, citizens' assemblies selected by lottery (sortition), and participatory budgeting. Like elections, these tools depend on the rule of law and access to information, and they are open to manipulation. However, when well-designed and implemented at all levels – local to transnational – these tools can counterbalance the limitations affecting elections: short-sighted focus, infrequent engagement, and an emphasis on propaganda over information.

Citizens' assemblies selected by lottery are particularly promising. They have effectively reduced political polarization and included representatives from the sheer numbers of disengaged voters.

Despite its recognized importance, citizen participation is often overlooked. Established democracies do not invest enough in reforms that strengthen these tools, underfund research on their effectiveness, and exclude potentially beneficial technologies like AI from the democratic toolkit.

We urge the European Union to launch a "Plan for Democratic Participation." This plan would integrate traditional elections with these participatory forms. It should leverage digital technologies, like civic Artificial Intelligence and a citizen-friendly app for participation, and prioritize research on improving the quality of decision-making outcomes.