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Award-winning voter project comes to Arizona


August 22, 2014

The Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University will conduct Arizona’s first Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR), a direct-democracy, citizen-participant project to help voters better understand complex ballot issues.

The CIR exercise will be held Sept. 18-21 at the Phoenix Convention Center in downtown Phoenix.

For the first time in more than three decades, there will be no voter initiative on the statewide ballot, so this first CIR project will focus on the Phoenix city government pension reform proposition. The issue of government pensions has garnered statewide and national interest, with the Phoenix measure’s outcome likely to have an impact in the debate.

“This project, which has been in the works for two years, aligns perfectly with one of our renewed emphases – governance,” said Thom Reilly, new director for Morrison Institute. “CIR will give voters a new tool to easily understand the pros and cons of a complex issue, because fellow voters – not slick campaigns – will share their thorough knowledge of the subject in everyday language.”

The CIR exercise is somewhat similar to a deliberation process by a jury. A representative sample of Arizona’s electorate by demographics – including political party, ethnicity, age, gender and other factors – is gathered to examine a complex ballot issue over three and a half days. Fact sheets, neutral but expert presentations and panel discussions with various points of view will be included in the exercise. Facilitators will help move the process forward but not influence individual or group discussions or positions.

Afterward, the 20-member citizens’ panel will present its findings – both pro and con – to the public, using everyday but clear and concise language. The goal is to provide their fellow voters with unbiased and understandable factual information as an alternative to well-funded and often misleading campaigns associated with many ballot initiatives.

“Morrison Institute is excited to bring CIR to Arizona because it is a proven model for strengthening the democratic process,” said Andrea Whitsett, project manager for Arizona’s Citizens’ Initiative Review. “It engages the citizen panelists as a fair and balanced deliberative process that results in quality information for all voters. The findings of the citizen panel are clear, understandable and rise above partisan rhetoric.”

Whitsett was in Oregon this week observing that state’s most-recent CIR exercise facilitated by Healthy Democracy. The Oregon-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization helped secure funding for Morrison Institute and will offer its knowledge, expertise and facilitating experience, but Arizona’s CIR project will decidedly be “Arizona” in scope, mission and practices, Whitsett said.

The Oregon CIR project was awarded both the International Association for Public Participation’s Award for North American Project of the Year and Project of the Year internationally in 2013.

“Research shows that the Citizens’ Initiative Review gives voters information they can trust about ballot measures, and we look forward to seeing Arizonans come together for their first review this fall,” said Tyrone Reitman, executive director at Healthy Democracy.

An independent evaluation of the exercise will be conducted for Arizona’s Citizens’ Initiative Review, as has been done in Oregon, to ensure the integrity and transparency of the exercise, which will be open to the public and news media for observation. The evaluation will also be used in improving Arizona’s CIR for the 2016 election, when there likely will be key statewide ballots.

Updates for this year’s CIR project will be posted on Morrison Institute’s website: MorrisonInstitute.asu.edu

Arizona’s CIR project was aided by input from its nonpartisan advisory board, including:

• Thomas Collins, executive director, Arizona Clean Elections Commission
• Rivko Knox, League of Women Voters of Arizona
• Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney
• Alberto Olivas, Maricopa County Community Colleges District Center for Civic Participation
• Jane Prescott-Smith, managing director, National Institute for Civil Discourse
• Karen Schroeder, ASU adjunct professor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning
• Daniel Schugurensky, ASU professor, School of Public Affairs and School of Social Transformation

A Morrison Institute poll conducted just before the 2012 election identified a dire need for increased voter awareness concerning ballot measures, noted David Daugherty, associate director at Morrison Institute and a longtime data and survey researcher.

Nearly three-quarters of Arizona voters polled said they found ballot measures too complicated and confusing to fully comprehend. As a result, 60 percent use their limited knowledge to struggle through the propositions, while more than 20 percent don’t vote one way or the other. Some respondents (5.5 percent) said they just vote “no” on ballot propositions they feel they do not have enough information about to understand.

“This project fits perfectly with Morrison Institute’s nonpartisan mission, and can be seen as an innovative extension of Morrison’s highly acclaimed efforts to increase voter awareness,” Daugherty said.

“Understanding Arizona’s Propositions," a nonpartisan and neutral examination of the pros and cons of ballot initiatives, is posted at MorrisonInstitute.asu.edu before elections that include statewide initiatives. The briefings are touted for their concise explanations, as well as their non-biased presentation and neutral position.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource and part of the ASU College of Public Programs, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state and region’s quality of life.

For more information, go to: MorrisonInstitute.asu.edu.