One of the most promising contemporary institutions is the Oregon Citizens' Initiative Review, which became a permanent part of the state's electoral process under bipartisan legislation passed last year. The review convenes a demographically balanced, random sample of 24 citizens for weeklong deliberations on every state ballot measure.
The citizen panelists interrogate advocates, opponents, and experts on each initiative. They then examine the evidence and arguments to produce a one-page analysis, which appears in the official pamphlet the secretary of state mails to all registered Oregon voters.
Research my colleagues and I conducted in 2010 showed that the reviews had a significant impact on the wider electorate, helping voters sort through complex ballot questions. Consider, for example, two reviews held this year.
Panelists studying a proposed change in the state's tax laws discovered that it could not guarantee the increased education funding it promised. In a less reflective process, such a "gotcha" finding might have led the measure to be rejected. But a majority of this sober citizen panel endorsed the measure anyway, on the grounds that it appeared superior to the status quo.
The measure passed on Tuesday.'
Another panel tackled a controversial proposal to allow non-tribal casinos in the state. The polished arguments of the initiative's proponents collapsed under the panel's weeklong scrutiny, and the panelists ended up with doubts about its benefits and concerns about adverse effects on tribal revenues. This is likely why casino proponents suspended their campaign before Election Day, when the initiative was rejected.