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Reforming the Initiative Process

OPB | Nov. 13, 2008 midnight | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:46 p.m.

Two weeks before the election, John Providenza in our October “suggest a show” thread came up with a request:

Given some of the ballot measures seem to be re-runs of previous ballot measure failures, I’d suggest a discussion of these re-runs, why they failed before, who keeps recycling them, and what could be done to prevent this try-try-again abuse of the process.

There were so many specific ballot measures and candidates to talk about (or to) over the last month that we figured an hour on the initiative process could wait until after the election. Well, here we are.

We’d like to broaden John’s question, though, to look at the larger issue of initiative process reform. The City Club of Portland did just that last year, and released a 76-page report, Making the Initiative Work for Oregon (pdf), in January. Among their recommendations: implement an “indirect initiative system,” in which the Legislature would deliberate on citizen initiatives after they have qualified for the ballot; require a three-fifths majority of votes cast for any amendment to the Oregon Constitution; and limit the kinds of initiatives that could amend the Constitution in the first place. (The City Club isn’t alone, by the way, in thinking about how to change the initiative system. The National Conference of State Legislatures released their own report in 2002.)

The Citizens’ Initiative Review has taken another approach to improving the system: focusing on the interpretation of initiatives, rather than their creation. Their plan is to convene groups of demographically representative citizens to review initiatives, hear testimony from proponents, opponents, and experts, and then publish their distilled arguments in the Voters’ Guide.

Would you welcome an official review of initiatives done by “regular” citizens? Would they sway your vote? What do the City Club’s proposals look like now, in the recent aftermath of another initiative-heavy election? Most broadly, does the initiative process need fixing? And if so: how?

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