On Tuesday, July 12th the pilot project team used an objective, scientific method to select a 20 member citizen panel that is representative of the overall population across the following demographic categories: age, gender, geography, political party affiliation, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment. See the documents below for the selection method that was used and the demographic makeup of the citizen panel. The demographic makeup of the citizen panel may change slightly if any selected panelists drop out and the team has to call in alternates. Four alternate panelists were chosen.
by Shira Schoenberg
The Springfield Republican/MassLive.com
A group of politicians and academics — including former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis — are piloting a program to have a committee of citizens analyze the ballot question on legalizing marijuana and draft a statement of its pros and cons to be distributed to voters.
"This is going to be a great thing for people just to get educated about this ballot referendum," said Dukakis, a Democrat and a board member of the initiative. "There's a lot of confusion out there. People really don't understand this well."
The pilot program is similar to one in place in Oregon that has also been tested in Colorado and Arizona. The goal is to better educate citizens by providing them with independent, objective information about a ballot question.
"The problem we're trying to address is confusion among voters about ballot questions," said State Rep. Jonathan Hecht, D-Watertown, who spearheaded the initiative. "They deal with complicated issues, a lot of different policy dimensions, and what we're hearing anecdotally on the street and from constituents is that voters are confused."
An advisory committee for the Citizens' Initiative Review project, which includes Democrats and Republicans representing politics and academia, met Tuesday to choose which ballot question to study and to select the members of the citizens' advisory panel. The nine-member board unanimously chose the question that would legalize and regulate recreational marijuana.
"There's a particular interest in the state regarding the marijuana issue," said board member Phil Johnston, a former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party who now chairs the UMass Building Authority.
Though Johnston personally opposes marijuana legalization, he said, "I don't think we should be biased in presenting the information. We need to make sure both sides are presented to the public fairly and neutrally."
Hecht said the marijuana question was chosen because it is complicated and touches on a range of issues, including law enforcement, public health, youth and taxation.
The other three questions on the ballot will be about expanding charter schools, allowing a second slots parlor and prohibiting the sale of eggs or meat from confined farm animals.
Choosing the panel
The organizers sent letters to 10,000 Massachusetts residents asking for participants. They selected the advisory committee from the respondents using an algorithm that takes into account age, geography, political party affiliation, race, gender and educational attainment.
The goal is to have a panel that represents Massachusetts' voting age population.
There will be 20 panelists and four alternates. The panel will have seven Democrats, two Republicans, and 11 members who are unenrolled. Half the members will have a high school education equivalent or less, while half will have at least an associate's degree.
They will be paid $400 each, and those from outside Boston will be given accommodations during the four days of deliberations on Aug. 25-28.
During deliberations, which will be open to the public, the group will be presented with information about the marijuana question from supporters and opponents of the ballot question and from outside experts. They will produce a citizens' statement, which will include a statement of fact and a summary of the arguments for and against legalization. The statement will be distributed via the media, social media and through mailing lists.
Outside experts will evaluate whether the program is successful.
The marijuana question has sparked significant debate. National groups are funding the effort to legalize marijuana, and Massachusetts voters already decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and allowed medical marijuana.
The opposition includes a bipartisan group of some of Massachusetts' most powerful politicians, including Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.
Dukakis, asked for his views on the marijuana legalization, said he is "thinking about it seriously."
"Prohibition doesn't work that well," Dukakis said. But, he said, "It's an addicting drug. ... I don't think what we're seeing in Colorado is encouraging."
The project is a partnership between Tufts University's Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and Healthy Democracy, which started the Oregon program.
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 12, 2016.....A panel of 20 Massachusetts voters this summer will jump headfirst into the debate over the marijuana legalization ballot question to produce an independent summary of question's pros and cons, and give fellow voters easy to understand information on the initiative.
Under the Citizens' Initiative Review, 20 voters and four alternates selected to match the state's demographics will take four days in August to hear from the pro- and anti-legalization campaigns, experts on the subject and others before drafting pro and con statements that can be distributed statewide. The panel will not endorse a yes or no vote on the question, but instead strive to give voters as much unvarnished information as possible.
After briefly deliberating at the State House, the CIR Advisory Board on Tuesday selected Question 4, the ballot question to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, as the question to be studied in part because of a feeling that the question could generate more confusion among voters than the other three questions and because of the broad interest in the topic.
"The high profile of the question and the degree of public interest in it means the statement that the citizens panel produces will get a lot of attention. It is a very complicated issue," said Rep. Jonathan Hecht, whose helped launch the new effort. "It involves law enforcement, it involves public health, it involves issues of youth, it involves issues of driving, issues of taxation, a whole range of issues -- I think their feeling was it would be very helpful for voters to hear a real thorough assessment of the pros and cons."
The CIR is a pilot program sponsored by Hecht, the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University and Healthy Democracy, which implemented a similar citizens' initiative review system in Oregon in 2011.
The advisory board includes former Gov. Michael Dukakis, Assistant House Minority Leader Brad Hill, Sen. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth), former state Democratic Party chairman Phil Johnston, MassVOTE board member Rachael Cobb and MassVOTE board chairman George Pillsbury.
"The voters guides we have gotten in the past, they're very confusing sometimes. My hope is that with this pilot program this is going to be put into layman's terms - this is why you should be supporting or why you should not," Hill said after the meeting, which was closed to the press. "I want to know when I go in to vote on the marijuana question what all the pros are and what all the cons are, and I want to be able to understand it. And that's what I hope this will do."
Dukakis said he thinks the CIR process will be helpful to voters, particularly given that the marijuana question seems to be a "dead heat."
"I like this process. This is going to be a great thing for people to get educated about these ballot referenda," the former governor said. "Oftentimes it's very confusing and I think that we picked the marijuana one to focus on is a good thing. I think there is a lot of confusion out there, people don't really understand it that well."
Question 4 would impose a 3.75 percent state excise tax on retail marijuana sales, allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in public, and establish a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the new industry, among other provisions.
Though he said prohibition "doesn't work that well," Dukakis said he is bothered by the "constant refrain" that the question is about recreational marijuana use.
"I mean, there is nothing recreational about this. It's an addictive drug and one I think we need to take very seriously," the Brookline Democrat said.
Asked whether he supports or opposes the ballot question, Dukakis said, "I'm thinking about it seriously, but I'm concerned about the consequences. I don't think what we're seeing in Colorado is encouraging."
Hill said he is looking forward to the CIR's final product and expects to use it the same way any other voter would.
"I'm actually learning, as all the citizens are, what the pros and cons are," the Ipswich Republican said of the question. "I was somebody who felt, you know, go ahead and legalize it, tax it and do all those things. But now that I'm starting to see what the ramifications are, I certainly question it now."
From Aug. 25 through Aug. 28 at the Atrium School in Watertown, the 20-citizen panel, led by professional
moderators, will conduct a sort of public hearing on the ballot question, inviting testimony from supporters, opponents and policy experts.
The panel will then put together its statement of findings and disseminate it in September and October, using traditional and social media. Once the process is over, Hecht said, researchers from Penn State will conduct an independent review to evaluate the CIR's process, deliberations and impact on voter understanding.
Pictured: Kansas members of the People's Party, late 19th century.
This post was written by Ian Clarke, the Tufts University fellow working on the Citizens’ Initiative Review project team this summer. As part of Ian's work, he'll be preparing a weekly blog exploring topics related to CIR and the initiative and referendum system in Massachusetts.
We publish all of the information on our site, including the piece I posted last week, in the service of an honest exploration of what the mechanics of the modern ballot system in Massachusetts look like. But in thinking about where this blog should travel as we continue posting, we recognize that context is incredibly important. An essential component in knowing how this institution works in our state today is learning also how it first arose and how it spread to states throughout the nation.
The founders of the United States never really considered the sort of direct governance to which many Americans now have access (or anything like it). Most contemporary leaders of that era were wary of the masses as a political entity without the filter of a representative to vote on their behalf. Government in the United States adhered to this strictly representational course without interruption for over a century after the Revolutionary War.
But many Americans in the late nineteenth century came to feel that representative government was unduly influenced by industrial interests. Rather than try solely trying to occupy and re-assert control over the system that had escaped them, populists crafted proposals to circumvent the thick weeds of representative government by borrowing ideas the Swiss had used since the thirteenth century. The concept allowed ordinary citizens to assemble support for laws they wanted and then pose these questions to the people directly on Election Day.
By the year 1918, the enthusiasm for adopting these measures into state constitutions catapulted initiative and referendum mechanisms into over half of the states. The details and logistics did, as one might expect, vary from state to state. But they were without question all a product of a broad, common energy that had taken hold in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.
The desire for this sort of democracy carried the day most strongly in the West, where farmers and laborers most identified the specter of the Eastern establishment as a threat. States in a bloc ranging from Montana to Arizona and California all enacted initiative and referendum measures during this period. However, across the wide swath of eastern states where direct democracy remained largely nonexistent, Maine and Massachusetts broke the mold and inserted these institutions into their state constitutions.
As we explore the best ways to conduct direct democracy in the state of Massachusetts, it's important to start thinking about the original impetus and inspiration for the system itself. In doing so, we also ask ourselves how well direct democracy functions in fulfilling that original hope: to renew a vital connection between the people and the laws they live under. But that story is for a second entry. More to come.
This post was written by Ian Clarke, the Tufts University fellow working on the Citizens’ Initiative Review project team this summer. As part of Ian's work, he'll be preparing a weekly blog exploring topics related to CIR and the initiative and referendum system in Massachusetts.
Given the CIR‘s core goal – to help voters better understand confusing ballot questions – it seemed prudent for me to spend some time hearing from voters themselves. I elected to hop on the Red Line train to Davis Square in Somerville, the nearest T-stop to my beloved Tufts University. Since the extension of the Red Line to the square in the 1980s, the area has become a bustling hub – host to restaurants and other businesses, along with the occasional flea market or activist street band festival.
When I walked out of the T-Stop and across the busy crosswalk on Holland Avenue, a good deal of people were scattered across the brick-cobbled triangle of open space outside J.P. Licks’ Ice Cream.
I soon found myself sitting on a bench next to Rick Beaulieu, a Catholic priest taking a break from walking his dog, Lily. Beaulieu, whose primary residence is in Marblehead, and I started a twenty-minute long conversation about everything from recyclable bottles to the merits of representative government.
“The first time I voted in Massachusetts was probably in 1970” he told me when I asked. As we switched to the topic of ballot questions, he was unabashedly honest about his current awareness of the measures that he would be asked to vote on in five months.
“I don’t even know how many are on there. When the election gets closer, I’ll probably put the time in to learn more about them.”
Beaulieu said he believed that ignorance of the ballot measures themselves was likely universal.
Somerville resident Grace Peters, who I talked to shortly after, had a similar outlook.
“I’m almost overwhelmed by the amount of junk that I get about the primaries and the national things. Some of its helpful, but sometimes it’s enough already. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not very aware at all about what the state propositions are for legislative amendments,” she said. “I frankly don't know what can be done to improve access to information.”
Peters told me the most important thing when trying to make sense of ballot questions is reliable information from a trusted source. For her, this means an explanatory pamphlet from the League of Women Voters that she receives in the days prior to Election Day.
A friend of Peters, who originally did not want to be interviewed for this post but peppered in a few comments anyway, chimed in here. “I’m more likely to hear about state issues through my church, which is a social activist kind of church… so there are certain people who are very active in these things and pull the rest of us along.”
Anthony Alleyne, who works in prosthetics at a Boston-area Veterans Affairs Hospital, derives some confidence from the nature of his work, which brings him into contact with countless patients.
“I hear a lot of older people talking constantly and I know their mindset. I know what they believe. As a younger person, I go online, I read stuff - I’m kinda more out there, so I know both sides. I can make a more valid opinion, I sort of see both sides,” he told me.
As far as confronting the possibility that many voters lack a reliable source of information as they are asked to pick a side on initiatives, universal concern was expressed in my conversations. The activity of interest groups was often described as a threat.
“The people who have a huge amount of money that can be spent on advertising in favor of a bill and really flood people that don't have any feelings or aren't very aware of stuff that’s going on and really overwhelm them with scare tactics and fear,” Peters told me. “I’m going back to the bottle bill, which is ancient history now for most people. There was all this advertisement that it was going to hurt businesses and it was going to be a huge drag and on and on. There was a huge amount of money that was spent against that [initial bill].”
Beaulieu also referenced the Bottle Bill in making this case. “There’s a huge impact. Like the bottle bill - the soda companies, the beer companies, grocery stores spent millions to get that defeated. The polling went from wide support to a bad loss overnight.”
I asked Alleyne if he sees many advertisements surrounding the ballot questions most voters aren’t well-versed on. “Oh yeah, all the time,” he answered. “I don’t watch a lot of TV but you see it all the time - especially if you watch something like Fox or CNN.”
Especially considering the sheer number of advertisements, Alleyne told me that he worries that “voters can be swayed very easily,”
Like Alleyne, everyone I spoke with had concerns with the ballot question system. They all wanted to see reform, to try to reform the ballot initiative into a more representative and less easily manipulated system. They all felt that this required voters to have access to better and fairer sources of information. None were sure what that would look like just yet, but this summer we will see if it looks like the Citizens’ Initiative Review.
Next week, more from somewhere else.
As the mailing makes it way across the state from the Postal Service's bulk processing center in Springfield over the next few days, 10,000 randomly selected Massachusetts voters will receive a letter inviting them to participate as citizen panelists in the Citizens' Initiative Review deliberations. Voters who are interested in participating will fill out a short demographic questionnaire included with the letter and return it to the project team by June 30th. Of those voters who respond affirmatively--we expect a yield rate of about 5 percent or 500 voters--the project team will use an objective, scientific method to select the 20 voters who will comprise the citizen panel to ensure that they are representative of the state's electorate. The 20 voters chosen to serve on the citizen panel will be notified July 12th.
By Michael P. Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 18, 2016....In an era of expensive initiative petition fights, Watertown Rep. Jonathan Hecht this year will lead a new way for voters to scrutinize a ballot question and then inform their fellow voters of their findings.
Hecht this session proposed legislation (H 561) calling for a system under which citizens would sit in judgment of a proposed ballot question. The idea, Hecht said, was to give people a chance to cut through the spin, glitzy ads and confusion associated with initiative petition fights.
Hecht told his colleagues in January that he was close to having a pilot project lined up but in March the Election Laws Committee shot down his idea, sending it to study. He's moving ahead with it anyway.
In the coming weeks, a Massachusetts Citizens' Initiative Review Advisory Board featuring Democrats and Republicans will notify the campaigns pressing forward with November ballot questions that one of their proposals will be chosen for a vetting process unlike any that's occurred in Massachusetts.
The proposals currently trending toward the ballot involve charter school expansion, legalization of adult use of marijuana, repeal of the Common Core education standards, an effort to regulate health care pricing, a proposal dealing with the treatment of farm animals, and an effort to allow an additional casino. Campaigns are still gathering signatures and lawmakers could act on alternatives to the petitions.
Hecht and the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University are partnering with Healthy Democracy, which implemented Oregon's citizens' initiative review system in 2010, on a privately funded examination of a Bay State ballot question.
"We're going to try it out and see how it works in Massachusetts," Hecht told the News Service. "It's something that just sort of struck me as potentially a really exciting experiment in political participation at a time when there's a lot of skepticism about the political process which I think is a concern to all of us who are part of politics. There's no question that over the last 25 or 30 years we've seen more and more major policy matters go to the ballot."
Project organizers plan in June to assemble 20 Massachusetts voters, a group that will be balanced to reflect the demographics of the state's electorate. In July, the advisory board will select the ballot question that will be the focus of the review. From Aug. 25 through Aug. 28, at the Atrium School in Watertown, the citizens panel, led by professional moderators, will conduct a public appraisal of the ballot question, hearing from supporters, opponents and policy experts. The panel will then put together a statement of findings and disseminate it in September and October, using traditional and social media and in the process potentially influencing voter opinions on the chosen ballot question.
"It's a bit like debate camp for the citizens who are participating," said Hecht aide Sam Feigenbaum, who wrote his senior thesis at Carleton College in 2014 on direct democracy systems. "It's their job to look at the question from both sides and come up with the best reasons either for or against the ballot question on either side."
Said Hecht: "We're not trying to arrive at the end of the deliberations necessarily with a clear recommendation to voters about how they should vote. It's really designed to inform them in ways that come from people like them and is expressed in language that is like normal people use, instead of just being bombarded with sort of one side of the story and then the other side of the story by advocacy groups. The goal is to give people confidence that when they go in and vote they have a real understanding of the issue and kind of understand it from a layperson's point of view."
Hecht said project organizers will send a mailer to 10,000 randomly selected voters inviting them to participate in the pilot. Twenty will be selected from those who indicate a willingness to participate.
"It's done in a very sort of scientific way," said Hecht. "You can actually come up with a panel that's representative" of the electorate.
Feigenbaum said that since 1986, there have been 48 statewide ballot questions, following a 65-year period during which there were only 30 questions. He said he is "flooded" with calls from Hecht's constituents who are confused about ballot questions.
According to Hecht, the ability of campaigns to spend unlimited sums of money in their quests for and against new ballot laws has prompted more people and interest groups to take a run at the ballot.
"Now pro and con groups think 'we can pour lots and lots of money into these questions, let's take our chances, take them to the ballot and see if we can persuade people,'" said Hecht, who added that people on all points in the political spectrum agree that one result of more ballot questions is more voter confusion.
The advisory board includes, among others, former Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Phil Johnston and former Gov. Michael Dukakis as well as House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Brad Hill and Sen. Vinny deMacedo, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The other advisory board members are: Alan Solomont, dean of the Tisch College of Civic Life and former ambassador to Spain and Andorra; Archon Fung, academic dean, Harvard Kennedy School; Rachael Cobb, professor of government at Suffolk University and a MassVOTE Board member; Patrick Field, managing director, Consensus Building Institute; and George Pillsbury, senior consultant, NonProfit Vote, MassVOTE Board chair.
Students from the Harvard Kennedy School, Suffolk University and Tufts University will assist with staffing for the project, handling policy research and other tasks. An evaluation of the effort will be led by John Gastil, a professor of communications at Penn State who plans to examine the quality of the deliberations and whether the findings improved voter knowledge and understanding of the question.
The project's total cost, including in-kind contributions, is $150,000. The 20 citizens who participate will be paid $400, or $100 a day for each day they deliberate in August.
This September 2015 post first appeared on the Harvard Kennedy School’s blog. It provides a helpful overview of the steps taken to lay the groundwork on the Citizens’ Initiative Review pilot project.
by Sam Feigenbaum
Repeal of gas tax indexing. Expansion of the deposit recycling system. Casino gaming and earned sick time. So comprised the thicket of ballot questions that Massachusetts voters confronted at the polls in November 2014.
Next year’s slate of questions promises to prove just as challenging for the voting public in the Commonwealth. Legalization of marijuana, repealing Common Core standards, and raising the cap on charter schools are all questions likely to make the ballot.
Not only do the outcomes of ballot questions like these in Massachusetts and states across the United States deeply impact the lives of residents, but they touch upon complex and often, highly technical, issue areas. It is critical that voters are able to access reliable and helpful information to help them understand ballot questions before they head to the polls.
Unfortunately, voters report that dependable and trustworthy information on ballot questions can be hard to come by. Across the Commonwealth, both Democrats and Republicans will tell you that every election season they are sure to receive a steady stream of queries from voters looking for resources to help them make sense of that year’s ballot questions.
Since 1986, when the Massachusetts legislature, responding to the Supreme Court decision in First National Bank v. Bellotti, struck down limits on spending to finance ballot question campaigns, the problem has only become more acute.
It is difficult to know whether the elimination of spending limits on ballot questions is the sole contributor to the rise in their frequency. Some on Beacon Hill argue that the real reason that the usage of ballot questions has increased is that the legislature is increasingly reticent to tackle thorny political challenges—say, for example, the legalization of marijuana.
The graph above charts the number of initiative petitions to make the ballot since the system was instituted in Massachusetts in 1919. Pre-1986, 30 initiative petitions made the ballot over 65 years. Since 1986, 48 initiative petitions have made the ballot in 28 years.
After the fall 2014 election cycle, State Representative Jonathan Hecht’s office began to look at ways that Massachusetts could do more to provide voters with access to dependable and unbiased information on ballot questions.
At present, the Commonwealth provides voters with the following information in the official election guide on each ballot question:
• a summary written by the Attorney General of what the proposed law would do,
• the effect of a yes vote and a no vote on the question,
• a 150 word argument provided by a proponent of the ballot question and an 150 word argument provided by an opponent of the ballot question, and
• the text of the proposed law.
Starting in 2016, the official election guide will also include an 100 word fiscal impact statement on each ballot question prepared by the Secretary of Administration and Finance.
While this information and the fiscal impact statement that will be added in 2016 certainly represent a good faith effort on the part of legislators to give voters the background detail they need to make well-informed decisions on ballot questions, research conducted in other states on ballot guides that include the four components currently provided in Massachusetts plus a fiscal impact statement indicates that the information is lacking in key ways.
Voters find the summary, text of the proposed law, and the fiscal impact statement to be written in too bureaucratic a style to be accessible. And, not surprisingly, voters consider the arguments given by the proponents and opponents of the ballot question to be misleading. No wonder then that polling shows that nearly three-quarters of voters consider ballot questions to be too complicated to understand.
With a fuller picture of the limitations of the information that Massachusetts provides voters on ballot questions, Representative Hecht’s office looked to other states to see if any had different systems in place to better serve voters with accessible and unbiased evaluations of ballot questions.
A system called Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR), institutionalized in Oregon in 2010, has been catching the attention of policymakers in a number of states. Under the CIR system, a citizen panel consisting of roughly 18 to 24 participants is calibrated to reflect the demographics of the overall electorate. Over the course of three to five days, experts on all sides of the chosen ballot question speak before the citizen panel, with ample time included for questioning and internal discussion amongst citizen panelists. Professional facilitators moderate throughout and, at the close of the session, help the citizen panelists prepare a statement of findings to be included in the official election guide sent to all voters.
Research conducted on the efficacy of CIR has shown encouraging results. Over the course of studying numerous iterations of CIR in Oregon, John Gastil, Professor of Communications at Pennsylvania State University, has found that citizen panelists engage in quality deliberation, that citizen statements reflect sophisticated opinion and are free of factual inaccuracy, and that voters who read citizen statements show greater knowledge gains than voters who read other parts of the official election guide.
Perhaps most impressively, even though CIR has only been in place for three election cycles in Oregon, over fifty percent of voters report reading citizen statements. Encouraged by these findings, State Representative Hecht filed legislation to implement the CIR system as practiced in Oregon here in Massachusetts.
In Massachusetts, over 6,000 bills are filed each legislative session. Given the sheer numbers, it takes a concerted push to move a piece of legislation toward passage, especially when the legislation would institute an idea as unfamiliar as CIR.
Fortunately, Healthy Democracy, the organization that pioneered CIR in Oregon, shared lessons on how they built political momentum for CIR’s passage into law. Tyrone Reitman, the executive director of Healthy Democracy, helpfully explained that the key to their effort in Oregon had been a privately funded pilot and evaluation of CIR in connection with a ballot question—Ballot Measure 58, which proposed that “English immersion” be required in public schools. The pilot raised awareness amongst key policymakers and the evaluation, conducted by the League of Women Voters, found the CIR process and citizen statement to be fair and unbiased.
Healthy Democracy also shared that they were now working to expand CIR to other states. If a team in Massachusetts could provide the organizational and political support needed to host a privately funded 2016 pilot project, then Healthy Democracy would work to ensure that the funding needed to hold the pilot and evaluation would be available.
Over the past few months, a team has coalesced on the ground in Massachusetts to make the 2016 pilot project possible. Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service has agreed to serve as the local host institution, providing invaluable institutional backing and experience with the practice and methods of deliberative democracy. The Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School and Suffolk University have pledged to encourage their students to get involved and help organize and host the pilot. And John Gastil, the researcher who has studied CIR in Oregon, got in touch to express his excitement at the possibility of a Massachusetts pilot project—he already had funding in place to conduct an evaluation.
A bipartisan advisory board, which will advise on which 2016 ballot question should be selected for the pilot sports influential leaders from the worlds of academia, policy, and politics, including Alan Solomont, Dean of Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Archon Fung, Acting Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, and State Senator Viriato deMacedo, ranking Republican member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
With these pieces in place, once funding is secured, the groundwork will be complete for hosting the pilot in August 2016.
Every election cycle, ballot questions are used as vehicles to decide issues of great importance, and yet they often cause confusion among voters. As the Springfield Republican described it during the 2014 election, “To the untrained ear or the unschooled voter, ballot questions sound somewhat like an Abbott and Costello ‘Who’s on First?’ routine.”
Citizens’ Initiative Review holds the potential to provide the electorate with the information it needs to more fully understand complicated initiative and referendum questions. As such, the privately funded pilot and evaluation project, which will come at no cost to the state, is a more than worthwhile effort to undertake. If the pilot illustrates that CIR serves as a helpful and trustworthy resource on ballot questions for voters in Massachusetts as it has in Oregon, then the real push will begin to pass legislation into law.