Citizen Judgement Reviews Return the Debate to the Citizens

By Paul M. Davis

One of the most vexing problems for voters in states that allow ballot initiatives is determining how to separate the truth from heavily-funded, misleading messaging from special interests. Intentionally confusing initiative descriptions and deep-pocketed allies and foes mislead many voters. While publications and fact-checking research groups can provide some illumination, these organizations often have their own axes to grind. During this election season, Oregon is presenting a third way: non-partisan Citizen Judgment Reviews that sift through the rhetoric, misleading advertisements, and research to provide Oregonians with an impartial take on the initiatives.

Credit: joebeone/Flickr

The State of Oregon has embraced the reviews, printing the statements of the Citizen Judgment Reviews within Oregon’s Voter Information Booklets. In a press release, Tom Atlee of the Institute for Global Communications describes the process:

“Two ‘Citizen Initiative Reviews’ — panels of randomly selected ordinary Oregonian voters — have passed ‘informed public judgment’ on two ballot initiatives Oregonians will be voting on this November. Authorized by the state legislature and the governor, their thorough study, expert interviews, and deliberations have clarified the issues and facts so Oregon’s voters can more intelligently decide how to vote, to reflect their highest values…This innovation could revolutionize elections. The initiative form of direct democracy could once again become a tool of the popular will. Broader use of the Citizen Initiative Review process could overcome special interests bent on turning popular will against the common good.”

24 “randomly selected, demographically balanced panels of Oregon voters…evaluated ballot measures over 5 full days”, releasing reviews of Measure 73 (Mandatory Minimums) and Measure 74 (Medical Marijuana Dispensaries) that can be found at Healthy Democracy Oregon.

It’s hard to find fault with a process that allows a demographically diverse and informed electorate to directly respond to the misleading ads and campaigning that surrounds these divisive issues. At The Oregonian, guest columnist Harvey Platt writes:

“…ballot measures are often complex issues that have significant financial and social implications for our state. Campaigns and interest groups spend tens of millions on flashy print ads and blaring commercials in an attempt to influence with sound bites, but not necessarily inform. Conversely, the Citizens’ Statements are written by an informed microcosm of Oregon voters, not politicians or pitchmen. It’s the opposite of the dumbing down of voters we have seen in recent years.”

Using a deliberate process, the Citizen Judgment Reviews cut through the rhetoric in favor of sober consideration of the issues and facts, and present an example to other states. In the process, the states engages its informed electorate in the fevered debate surrounging the issues. While the concept of a Citizen Review panel raises some questions, such how to ensure that the panels represent a demographically diverse swath of the electorate, it is certainly deserving of consideration.

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