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Despite misleading statements to the contrary, a fledgling effort to make sure voters are well informed about statewide ballot measures in Oregon is worth continuing.

The Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review process is, in fact, already having a positive influence on an initiative system that’s become overly corrupted by big money over the past two decades.

Perhaps it is the potential power of this initiative-review process that caused a group behind one 2012 ballot measure to avoid discussing its measure with the cross section of ordinary citizens on the panel. After all, if the citizen panel gains too much influence, it could counteract the emotional arguments that often form the basis for ballot measure campaigns.

Evaluating Measure 85

The Citizens’ Initiative Review began as a pilot project to test whether Oregon could improve its initiative/referendum system through more thoughtful, unbiased analysis. Last year, the Legislature wisely made it an official part of the election process.

During the citizens’ review, a panel of randomly selected and demographically balanced voters gathers to study a measure on Oregon’s ballot. This year, two citizen panels were convened: one to evaluate Measure 85, which dedicates the corporate kicker funds to K-12 education, and another to study a pair of measures that would legalize nontribal casinos in Oregon. Recommendations of the citizen panel will appear in the voters’ pamphlet for the November general election.

The initiative review panel met with unexpected controversy when the sponsor of Measure 85 — Our Oregon, which is backed by public employee unions — decided not to participate in the review. Scott Moore, a spokesman for Our Oregon, issued a statement claiming that the initiative review process was a waste of his group’s time because it did not seem to influence voters’ decisions. Moore made demeaning comments about the work of the Citizens’ Initiative Review, saying its track record was abysmal because voters in 2010 had done the opposite of what the panels had recommended.

Despite Our Oregon’s lack of cooperation this year, other supporters of Measure 85 stepped forward to make arguments on behalf of dedicating proceeds from the corporate kicker to schools. The irony is that the citizens’ panel still came down in favor of Measure 85, despite being insulted by its sponsor.

No state funding

Our Oregon’s stance in this matter was not only disappointing, but also misinformed. Research by the National Science Foundation shows that a large chunk of voters give added credibility to information provided in the voters’ pamphlet by the Citizens’ Initiative Review. This influence will only grow as more voters become aware of the citizens’ review process.

Other states are studying Oregon’s latest innovation in the initiative system. Several representatives from organizations and state governments across the nation are in Portland this week to observe the Oregon initiative review panel in action at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in the Lloyd District.

The nonprofit group Healthy Democracy operates the Citizens’ Initiative Review without a penny of state funds. We would support finding new methods of funding — perhaps a check-off box on state tax returns — to expand the work of the Citizens’ Initiative Review.

Oregon voters should have the opportunity for this type of balanced analysis of every ballot measure. Voters won’t always agree with recommendations of these panels — that’s not the point. The purpose is to help voters make the most informed decisions possible.

The only people who could disagree with that goal would be initiative sponsors who prefer to sway voters with emotionally charged television commercials, or one-sided arguments in the voters’ pamphlet.

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