Rachael Cobb, Professor of political science at Suffolk University, on CIR:

The Problem

Over the past 30 years, the ballot initiative has become an increasingly important part of Massachusetts’ electoral system, allowing voters to directly tackle momentous matters such as assisted suicide, paid sick leave, casinos, charter schools and marijuana legalization.  2018 will be no exception – many consequential initiative petitions are working their way through the certification process right now.

For each question on the ballot, the voter guide (“Red Guide”) distributed by the Secretary of State currently provides two sources of information: an official summary prepared by the Attorney General, by nature legalistic and opaque, and statements from the pro and con campaigns, by nature partisan and one-sided.  Faced with complicated ballot issues and a barrage of advertising, voters are often left confused and sometimes even unsure of the effect of a Yes or No vote.

The Solution

Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) empowers voters to help their fellow voters better understand complicated ballot questions and make informed, thoughtful decisions at the polls.  Based on principles of deliberative democracy, CIR was adopted in Oregon in 2011 and is being piloted in a number of other states, including California, Colorado, and Arizona.  It has been shown to increase voters’ understanding of ballot questions, strengthen their confidence in their vote, and improve their opinion of the political process as a whole.

“Direct democracy, like many aspects of democracy, is beautiful, powerful, and messy. Right now, voters go to the polls to vote on ballot questions with inadequate information—or sometimes with no information at all. It is difficult to blame voters, however, when there are several questions on the ballot. Money spent on ballot measures, often coming from outside the state, can distort information and skew the public debate. Sometimes ballot questions are so poorly written that not even the proponents know the full extent of the consequences until after voters have approved the question.
— Robin Teater, Executive Director of Healthy Democracy and Jessie Conover, Program Director