In Oregon the Citizens’ Initiative Review is an official part of state elections. The process involves a group of around 24 registered voters from across the state who are brought together to evaluate a ballot measure 1.
In 2008 a pilot Citizens’ Initiative Review was run in Oregon. It was modelled on a Citizens’ Jury with the intention to bring together voters to evaluate the ballot measures in a moderated environment. Following the pilot study the Oregon legislature created the Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission (CIRC) in 2011. The CIRC is made up of citizens from within Oregon state, moderators and appointees from the governor and senate leadership. The CIRC selects the measures that will be reviewers and has oversight of the CIR process.
What problem was it trying to solve?
Overall the Citizens’ Initiative Review seeks to address concerns about the nature of evidence that voters had been receiving in the lead up to votes on ballot measures. It does this through the production of high quality statements which are made available for voters. The CIRs also seek to improve democratic capacity building for the voters that participate in the process.
Each review will consider an individual measure that has been proposed by a ballot initiative. The Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission selects one or more state measures that have been proposed by petition to be voted on. They then convene a Citizens’ Initiative Review panel to evaluate the selected measure. The criteria for deciding which measure to choose to review includes
- The fiscal impact of the measure
- Whether it amends the Oregon Constitution
- The ability to fund the review
- Any other criteria established by the commission by rule
Previous CIRs in Oregon have considered mandatory minimum criminal sentences for some repeat offences (Measure 73) and the regulated distribution of medical marijuana (Measure 74).
The process of the Citizens’ Initiative Review is broken down into 5 stages (see illustration).
At each CIR around 24 members are randomly selected to deliberate over 3-5 days and review the ballot measure. The members of the panel are randomly selected. To account for participation biases the members are compensated for their time and travel expenses.
At the start of the review panellists are taught how to deliberate with each other. They are also tasked with developing criteria for evaluating the reliability of the information they will be receiving.
During the review the members of the panel are presented with arguments from those supporting and opposing the initiative. They also hear from neutral background witnesses who present on issues related to the initiative. Panellists are able to question the presenters.
Panellists deliberate with the rest of the panel in groups or pairs. These discussions are structured and led by a moderator which helps to ensure that panellists are given equal opportunity to participate and express their opinions. During the discussions they examine the evidence and consider the policy trade-offs, costs and benefits of the measure and underlying values.
5. The statement
At the end the members of the CIR come together to draft a Citizens’ Statement in which they present their key findings and recommendations about the measures as well as the best arguments for and against it. This also lists the number of panellists who are for or against the measure. This statement is presented at a public event on the final day and it is sent to every registered voter in the official Voters’ Guide.
After the review process is complete there is an evaluation stage. Both the moderators and the panellists are asked to evaluate the process they have been involved in. They consider several criteria including the quality of deliberation and the impartiality of the staff.
What was the conclusion / impact? Did it solve the problem?
The Citizens’ Initiative Review program in Oregon has received largely positive feedback. Independent research in 2012 demonstrated that the reviews were unbiased, widely used, and that they helped voters learn more about the ballot measures than other parts of the Voters’ Guide.
Watch Healthy Democracy’s video on the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review
- 1. In the US it is possible for a petition on a proposed statute or constitutional amendment to be put to a public vote if it is signed by a minimum number of registered voters. This is called a ballot initiative and is permitted in 24 states in the US.