Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Citizen Initiative Review To Educate Oregonians On Ballot Measures

by April 20th, 2010

By DeAnna Martin

This fall the State of Oregon will try out an official Citizen Initiative Review of a ballot measure. In a Citizen Initiative Review, a randomly selected and demographically balanced panel of Oregon voters participate in a weeklong deliberation on a ballot measure, the results of which are published in the voter’s pamphlet to better inform voters of unbiased implications of the measure when they go to vote.

DeAnna Martin

For the past several years, Healthy Democracy Oregon has worked to make the Citizen Initiative Review process a regular practice for Oregon voters. In June, 2009, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2895, allowing for an official pilot of the Citizens’ Initiative Review to be run during the 2010 election. This means that one to three ballot measures will be reviewed in-depth by demographically balanced panels of everyday Oregon voters, in order to provide clear, trustworthy, and useful information to voters statewide.

What Happens In A Citizen Initiative Review?
In a Citizen Initiative Review a demographically representative group of Oregon voters will be randomly selected to meet for several days where they will learn about the measure, determine key relevant facts, and evaluate its effectiveness or impact. They will hear testimony from policy experts, advocates for and against the measures, and affected stakeholders. Then, they will engage in facilitated conversation to determine their findings. They will author a “Citizens’ Statement” to articulate their findings that will be published along with text of the initiative and statements for and against the initiative in the voter’s pamphlet.

The Citizen Initiative Review process is based on the Citizens Jury model. Ned Crosby, founder of the Jefferson Center and Healthy Democracy Oregon, has been articulating, promoting, and organizing Citizen Juries in the United States for the past 30 years. Ned Crosby and Pat Benn have been designing the Citizen Initiative Review process since 1999 to support initiative reform efforts.

The Future Of The Citizen Initiative Review Process In Oregon And Beyond
In Oregon, plans are underway to select panelists for the review process. There are likely to be at least three and perhaps as many as seven citizen initiated measures on the fall ballot. The actual measures to be reviewed in the Citizen Initiative Review process won’t be identified until July.

In the short-term Healthy Democracy Oregon is focused on, “Conducting a fair, high quality Review and educating voters about the process,” says director Elliot Shuford. With funding from the National Science Foundation, John Gastil, a professor with the University of Washington’s Department of Communication and leading researcher in the field of deliberative democracy, is leading a team to evaluate the process to determine how many voters read, trust, and use the “Citizens’ Statement” and how much voters value the Review as a new public service. In the long-term, Shuford adds, “We want to institutionalize the Citizen Initiative Review, within state government, so it becomes a regular, ongoing process in Oregon.”

This will be the first time in U.S. history that citizen deliberation utilizing a randomly selected cross section of voters has been directly tied to an election. Oregon’s pilot legislation has created a “civic experiment” where deliberation is legislatively empowered. The field of democratic dialogue and deliberation will learn a great deal about how such a model can link up directly to decision-making. In the hope of Healthy Democracy Oregon’s director, “It can also become a symbol or exemplar of democratic innovation to others working to improve democracy.”

DeAnna is director of the Center for Wise Democracy, and a principal with Dynamic Facilitation Associates. Her work applies the Wisdom Council concept and the use of Dynamic Facilitation. Her background is in organizational development, leadership development, and conflict resolution. She has facilitated for clients in government agencies, the healthcare industry, community-based organizations, and in conference settings. She is a member of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation and a host of Countywide Community Forums in King County, WA. She holds a B.A. in Humanities and International Studies from Seattle University and a Certificate of Nonprofit Management from the University of Washington. She is passionate about empowering individual and collective creativity, and building capacity for change and transformation.

One Response to “Citizen Initiative Review To Educate Oregonians On Ballot Measures”

  1. John Spady says:

    Nice article DeAnna. I would very much like to experience something similar here in Washington State or perhaps in King County. I like how ordinary people are agreeing to contribute their time and energy like this. Simple actions by each one of us carries with it such potential for re-imagining important democratic skills in this still-evolving century of civic and political renewal.