Pair Propose `Juries' to Aid Voters

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), June 13, 2008 | Go to article overview

Pair Propose `Juries' to Aid Voters


Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

The jury - 12 ordinary citizens gathered to weigh the facts and determine a defendant's guilt or innocence - has served Oregon's legal system since statehood.

Now, a political reform group wants juries to help Oregon voters judge ballot initiatives.

A pair who met in graduate school at the University of Oregon, Tyrone Reitman and Elliot Shuford, have formed Healthy Democracy Oregon, which plans to recruit citizens of various ages, party affiliations, education levels and geographic regions to serve on a 24-member citizens' jury this fall.

According to their plan, the jurors will spend several days at Salem's Chemeketa Community College studying and discussing a yet-to-be-selected initiative and issue their independent assessment and recommendation to voters.

Reitman, who lives in Eugene, said he became convinced that Oregon needed to improve its discourse around initiatives while working on campaign finance reform measures in 2004 and 2006. Between the ads and mail pieces and pro/con arguments in the official voters' pamphlet, Oregonians hear too many wildly exaggerated predictions of what would come from passage or defeat of the initiatives before them - but not enough honest, reasoned debate, he said.

Shuford, a fellow UO grad student, agrees that voters need a counterweight to campaign advertising and political spin when it comes to sizing up initiatives. So he and Reitman started casting about for ways to put more useful information before the voters. In the course of their research, they came across an idea that a Minnesota political scientist put forth in the 1970s, and which had been a hot concept in the 1990s before the American political system seemed to cool to the idea: citizens' juries.

"To me, that seemed like a really good reform proposal for Oregon's initiative process," Reitman said. He and Shuford will outline their proposal today at a meeting of the City Club of Eugene.

Not everyone in the initiative business agrees. Veteran initiative promoter Kevin Mannix said he met with Healthy Democracy Oregon and quickly became skeptical.

"It's just another filter established by the political elite who think that the people don't know how to vote," said Mannix, a Republican who plans to put two anti-crime initiatives on this fall's ballot. "The jury I want is the jury of the voters who cast their ballot. That's what the initiative system is all about."

Dan Meek, a left-of-center activist who worked with Reitman on the recent campaign finance reform measures, said he appreciates the new group's intentions, but questions whether a group that is dubious about the initiative system can facilitate reviews of proposed ballot measures without a built-in bias against them.

"What if the facilitator was Bill Sizemore or me? …

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