The Quality of Public Participation: Oregon's CIR
Citizens' Initiative Review (CIR) passed the Oregon Senate this week and heads to the Governor's desk for signing.
It provides that a new state commission convene representative panels of voters to conduct ballot measure reviews and analyze arguments for and against. The results are published directly in the voters pamphlet.
"The Oregon CIR is a unique democratic reform—with nothing comparable existing anywhere in the world," wrote the University of Washington's John Gastil and Katie Knobloch, in their National Science Foundation-funded evaluation of last year's CIR experiment (pdf).
The 2010 experiment ran like this: Two CIR panels reviewed state ballot measures 73 and 74. Each panel consisted of 24 people, selected to be demographically representative (by age, gender, ethnicity, education, location of residence, and party affiliation) of the state's voters. Each deliberated for five days, choosing witnesses from a pool suggested by advocates and opponents. The process was privately funded.
The results: The CIR opposed measure 73, on mandatory sentencing, 21-3. It supported measure 74, on medical marijuana, 13-11. But come election day, without the benefit of such careful deliberation, Oregon voters split in exactly the opposite direction on the two measures.
Here's hoping that the media and voting public will take future opportunities to learn from the CIR process. Congratulations to CIR sponsor Healthy Democracy Oregon!