Citizens' Initiative Review

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A Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) is modeled on the Citizens’ jury and is a form of deliberative democracy. A panel of citizens meets to deliberate on a ballot initiative or referendum that voters in the same jurisdiction (such as a city, state, province, or country) will be deciding in an upcoming election. The panelists are chosen through means such as random sampling and stratified sampling to be demographically representative of the relevant population. To ensure that the panel is a manageable size for face-to-face deliberation, a CIR caps the number of participants at around two dozen. They are often paid for their time and travel so that the broadest possible range of citizens can participate.[1] To date, only the state of Oregon has passed a law to enact a permanent version of the CIR.[2] The states of Colorado, Arizona, and Massachusetts have conducted pilot tests of the CIR.[3][4][5]


The operations of a CIR are typically assisted by a moderator who is trained to ensure that all panelists engage in the deliberations. Over the course of a few days, the panelists not only deliberate among themselves but also question policy experts and advocates on both sides of the initiative. The panelists write a statement describing their deliberations in a form that can be publicized though means such as including it in the voter’s pamphlet. This statement summarizes what the panelists believed were the best arguments pro and con, and it lists the number of panelists who recommended voting both for and against the initiative.[6]


Consistent with other forms of deliberative democracy, a CIR tries to strengthen the quality and impact of the public voice in elections and government decisions.[7] The CIR addresses specific concerns about initiative campaigns where voters often receive little information at all, or else what they hear—for example, from paid advertisements—is biased or conflicting.[8] Under a CIR, voters learn what a representative body of citizens thought about the initiative after studying it carefully and deliberating among themselves.


Academic research shows that the panelists in the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review have achieved high-quality deliberation.[9] Voters became aware of those deliberations through the voters’ pamphlet and found the panelists’ statement to be helpful to their decisions, and voter knowledge about the initiatives increased as a result.[10] The panelists themselves developed new attitudes about the political process and their own capabilities.[11]


Informing the voting public of what the panelists recommended, rather than just summarizing the pro and con arguments that panelists found most persuasive, may short-circuit voters’ own deliberations by allowing them to simply adopt the panelists’ recommendation. [12]


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  2. ^ Robert Richards, “Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review” Archived 2017-04-25 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-03. Retrieved 2017-07-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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  6. ^ Robert Richards, “Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review” Archived 2017-04-25 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^
  8. ^ John Gastil, “Beyond Endorsements and Partisan Cues: Given Voters Viable Alternaties to Unreliable Cognitive Shortcuts”
  9. ^ Katherine R. Knobloch, John Gastil, Justin Reedy, and Katherine Cramer Walsh, “Did They Deliberate? Applying an Evaluative Model of Democratic Deliberation to the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review”
  10. ^ Katherine R. Knobloch, John Gastil, Traci Feller, and Robert C. Richards, “Empowering Citizen Deliberation in Direct Democratic Elections: A Field Study of the 2012 Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review”
  11. ^ Katherine R. Knobloch and John Gastil, “Civic (Re)socialisation: The Educative Effects of Deliberative Participation”
  12. ^ James Fishkin, "Deliberation by the People Themselves: Entry Points for the Public Voice"