Final Report of King County Bar Association Referendum & Initiative Project to KCBA Public Policy Committee
In November 2015, the Referendum and Initiative Project Subcommittee of the King County Bar Association’s Public Policy Committee presented its final report to the KCBA Board of Trustees. The Public Policy Committee will be organizing a forum this year on the issues addressed in the report, as KCBA explores engaging in advocacy on these issues in a long-term way, following the model of the Drug Policy Project in recommending reforms between 2000 and 2008.
The report has been serialized over the course of several issues of the Bar Bulletin. (The “parts” in which the report is divided for publication do not expressly conform to sections of the report, but are used only for the sake of convenience, i.e., available space). This month we conclude with Part V of this continuing series.
5. CITIZENS’ INITIATIVE REVIEW
5.1 Lack of Accurate and
Reliable Information for Voters
In Washington, ballot measures drive some of the state’s largest policy and fiscal decisions. But voters often find these significant measures to be complex or confusing to understand. Accurate and unbiased information can be difficult to find while well-funded campaigns advocating for or against an initiative may obscure rather than clarify the arguments for and against specific initiatives.
Unlike bills in the legislature, initiatives are presented to voters as a whole, with little or no public debate while the initiative is being formulated and no opportunity to amend the proposal or to choose an alternative. Initiatives do not go through committees where proposals are publicly debated and examined under the microscope of policy and fiscal analysis. As such, often the only information voters receive about the initiatives is directly from the initiative or opposition campaigns.
Available evidence suggests that available sources of information may confuse rather than inform voters. For example, six counties (Asotin, Clallam, Clark, Pierce, Skagit and Spokane), totaling roughly 550,000 ballots (or 25% of ballots cast statewide), passed both Initiative 594 and Initiative 591 in the November 2014 election, even though the initiatives contradicted each other.92 This very recent example of contradictory voting suggests that a significant number of voters lacked basic information about the content of initiatives on which they voted.
Responsibly exercising the right to direct lawmaking through the initiative process requires that voters have reliable and clear information about each ballot measure. A Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) will put clear and trustworthy information into the hands of Washington voters, by providing voters with an unbiased and factual evaluation using this unique deliberative process based on solid evidence.
The CIR is based upon the Citizens Jury Model of public deliberation developed by Ned Crosby at the Jefferson Center in St. Paul.93 It has been shown to lead to a better informed public with a greater appreciation of what happens when new public policies are created through the initiative process. The CIR process will help get accurate and unbiased information to the voters that may help cut through some of the confusing, and often biased or misleading, messages put forth by well-funded proponents and opponents.
The Subcommittee recommends the adoption of a CIR process that substantially follows the process outlined below:
• A panel of 20 Washington residents is randomly selected and demographically balanced to match the state’s electorate along seven key criteria: 1) gender; 2) age; 3) ethnicity; 4) geographic location; 5) party affiliation; 6) educational attainment; and 7) likelihood of voting.
• The panel takes several days to evaluate a statewide ballot measure, hearing directly from policy experts as well as advocates for and against the measure.
• At the conclusion of the CIR process, the panelists draft a “Citizens’ Statement” detailing their most important findings and reporting how many panelists support or oppose the measure. The Statement is not edited by anyone outside the panel.
• The Citizens’ Statement is published as a prominent page in the voters’ pamphlet, and distributed to every voting household across the state.
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