Citizen Initiative Review uses cross-section of voters to clarify implications of ballot measures

Since July, Professor John Gastil has been knee deep in the study of deliberative democracy working on the Citizen Initiative Review for the state of Oregon. Funded by the National Science Foundation and the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund, Gastil is working with Kathy Cramer Walsh, professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, doctoral students Katherine Knobloch and Justin Reedy, as well as a number of undergraduate research assistants to collaborate with Healthy Democracy Oregon and evaluate the panelists’ opinions on the review.

A Citizen Initiative Review is conducted to educate voters on ballot measures by giving them unbiased implications. In the review, a cross-section of voters are randomly selected and formed into a panel. The participants deliberate on a ballot measure for a week, hearing testimony from policy experts, advocates for and against the measures, and affected stakeholders. Participants are then given the opportunity to talk among one another, asking questions about the ballot measure, and have their opinions heard. After deliberation each person decides to either oppose or support the measure. The results of the review are published in the voters pamphlet as a “Citizens’ Statement” which goes alongside the text of the initiative and statements for and against the initiative.

The Oregon State Citizen Initiative Review is the first case in U.S. history where citizen deliberation utilizing a randomly selected cross section of voters has been directly tied to an election. For this “pilot run,” two groups of Oregon voters formed to deliberate on two ballot measures. The first panel reviewed Measure 73, which would establish increased minimum sentences for certain repeated sex crimes and DUIs. The second group reviewed Measure 74, which would establish dispensaries for medical marijuana.

For Gastil and his team, the objective is to determine whether the CIR is worth implementing on a permanent basis. To achieve this, “We observed the panels and created daily and weekly evaluations for the panelists and advocates to fill out,” said Knobloch. “We will be using our observations, along with the panelist and advocate evaluations and an analysis of the CIR transcripts to assess the quality of the deliberation.”

As of now, there’s no way to foresee whether the CIR will have an impact on the election. However, the results of the panelists’ evaluations show a great deal of satisfaction with the process. Once the election is over, Gastil’s team will survey the same panelists on their final opinions of the CIR. Come early December, the research findings will be assembled in a report for the Oregon State Legislature which will assess two questions: “Did the panel deliberate?” and “Did the statements produced by the CIR panels have an impact on the election?”

As for the final outcome for the Citizen Initiative Review, “Healthy Democracy is hoping to implement the CIR on a permanent basis for all initiative elections in Oregon,” said Knobloch. “It may also serve as a model for other states concerned with the quality of their initiative process.”