Voting guides for citizens by citizens, Oregon-style

Could voting guides created for citizens by citizens encourage more people to participate in the electoral process and increase their trust in elected government? That’s the goal of a promising program in Oregon called the Citizens’ Initiative Review, which produces voting guides on state ballot measures. The guides are authored by random samples of local citizens who study up on the issue, then distributed via mail to all voters.

Image Credit: Indivisible

According to recent reporting, the preliminary results are promising and other jurisdictions are taking notice:

Research funded by the National Science Foundation has shown encouraging results. A majority of Oregon voters are now familiar with the reviews, and survey experiments have shown that reading the statements makes for a better informed — and more reflective — electorate on issues as varied as GMO labeling and sentencing reform. What makes the review’s voting guides effective is the fact that citizens give considerable credence to information curated by fellow citizens.

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This review process has already spread beyond Greater Portlandia. Legislation to establish a similar process has been introduced in Washington and Massachusetts, and pilot reviews have been conducted in Arizona and Colorado.

Given the growing interest in experiments and programs that effectively engage more lay voters in the democratic process, citizen voting guides are an innovation worth watching and replicating. For more information, see background information provided by Healthy Democracy; “Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review: Where Citizens Help Us Vote,” Indivisible.us; and “These civic experiments are getting citizens more involved in governing themselves,” The Washington Post.