The history of Healthy Democracy as an organization is directly tied to their Citizen’s Initiative Review (CIR) process. This process brings “together panels of randomly selected and demographically balanced voters to fairly evaluate ballot measures” and a big part of how they got their start as an organization and their growth to this day. The first CIR was designed and tested in 2008, and then the state legislature passed House Bill 2895 which allowed a CIR pilot to be done in Oregon in 2010. Starting in 2014, the success of CIR in Oregon allowed them to expand their work into Arizona, Colorado and Massachusetts. On their website Ned Crosby and Patt Benn are credited as the inspiration and partial founders of the CIR process. However, the organization itself was founded by Tyrone Reitman and Elliot Shuford. Since the initial founding of Healthy Democracy and the implementation of CIR in Oregon, Healthy Democracy and CIR have been reviewed by people like John Gastil– a University of Washington professor, and has been the winner of many awards.
Healthy Democracy’s main goal is to help voters become more informed and more involved in politics. This is mainly facilitated through their CIRs. These panels help educate citizens by allowing advocates for and against specific policy measures to make their cases, along with independent experts. In a podcast reflecting on one of the first CIRs, Ann Bakkensen stated that “the idea isn’t to tell voters how to vote, but it’s to give them the best information possible from which they can make their decision…”(Davis 2016). The podcast also mentions that people felt frustrated by ballot measure advocates and how they would try to appeal to emotions rather than give useful information. Rather than try to convince voters that a policy is good or bad, the goal of the CIRs are to “undertake a thorough and unbiased analysis, accurately present the pros and cons to the voters and make an informed, thoughtful recommendation that the voters are free to accept or reject” (Register-Guard 2012). This way citizens can find out more about policy measures and make informed decisions instead of making choices based on one biased source.=
The Healthy Democracy non-governmental organization (NGO) works with the community to build perspective and clarity on policy decisions. They do this through their CIR process, where they randomly select 24 community members to discuss the upcoming ballot measures and the concerns or support they have for them. They first started this in Portland, Oregon and have branched out on a multiple of scales. For instance, the following states have an extension of the CIR: Arizona, California, Colorado, and Massachusetts. Extending from local responsibilities from the CIR’s they have also worked with national NGOs particularly in the education sector with; Arizona State, Tufts University, Portland State University, Harvard Kennedy School, and Davenport Institute. Other NGOs they work alongside are Kitchen Table democracy, Public agenda, Jonathan Hecht, the Civic Canopy and Engaged Public. These institutions and other non-profit organizations work together to promote the idea of engagement within a democratic structure. Working with educators allows their word of “Healthy Democracy” through the CIR process to empower voters to step outside of their political labels and consider the importance of engagement. They have also reached an international scale including some European countries in the CIR process.
References & resources
Davis, Alyssa. 2019. “#304 Healthy Democracy with Linn Davis.”2012. In Gov Love: Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL), MP3, 00:47:46 Gov Love
This podcast GovLov focuses on understanding local non-profits that engage with the public with the government. This episode of the podcast is an interview with Linn Davis the Portland Program, leader for Healthy Democracy. In this, he's prompted to discuss new projects happening around Portland including a project they started in fall 2019 in Milwaukie Oregon. At the beginning of the episode, he gives a detailed background on the Citizen Initiative Review (CIR) and the general information about the functionality of the non-governmental organizations. Interestingly this Milwaukie project is a different approach to the CIR where a group of panelist were selected to discuss the city and ponder the question; Should Milwaukie City Council members be paid more than their current volunteer stipend? If so, how much should Council members be compensated?
Davis, Linn. 2016. Reflections on the First-Ever Citizens Initiative Review - and a Six Year Bipartisan Friendship. Healthy Democracy, SoundCloud, 4:56. Healthy Democracy
This podcast was between Ann Bakkensen and Marion Sharp, two participants in Healthy Democracy’s very first CIR in Oregon in 2010. The two reflected on their experience with the panel and discussed the purpose behind it, which was educating citizens on ballot measures to give them a recommendation for them to consider. One thing they mentioned that was central to the idea of the CIRs was that before they were introduced, they were frustrated with how ballots used to be presented using a sort of emotional argument rather than explaining the ballot in terms that normal citizens could understand. They didn’t want to use that same tactic to convince voters to vote a certain way. Rather, the CIR was designed to give voters information with which they could make an informed decision.
This post by Robin is a reflection of Healthy Democracy’s progress in the 2017 year, as well as a brief summary of its beginning a decade prior. She talks about how the “public square” was being influenced by narrow interests with large amounts of private money who sought to manipulate information in their favor. This was particularly troubling for citizens trying to figure out who to trust in regards to voting on ballot measures. Healthy Democracy responded with the CIR process, which later became accepted into Oregon legislature. Robin then goes on to talk about more recent developments, including the launch of their Community Oregon program meant to help bridge the divides in our rural and urban communities.
The Register-Guard. 2012. “Keeping voters informed.” Accessed February 22, 2020. Register-Guard
This article starts off with a summary of how Oregon chose to institutionalize the CIR process. It then describes aspects of the process, such as how a panel is organized to study and discuss a ballot measure. Then the article describes an instance in 2010 where the panel recommended voters reject a measure about minimum sentencing for repeated crimes and pass a measure for an expanded medical marijuana system. The voters did the opposite, leading some to question the value of the CIR process. The important part of the article is when it states that the idea behind the process wasn’t to tell voters how to make their decision, but to provide analysis on ballot measures and then give citizens a recommendation they are free to accept or reject.
This podcast and brief accompanying article discuss the CIR process that took place on measure 97 in oregon. This measure was about whether or not to increase taxes on certain corporations in the state by $3 billion. Mapes goes into some detail about the CIR process and why this random group of Oregonians matters in the legislative process. This is relevant and interesting because it is discussing the CIR process from an outside perspective and focuses on how it worked for one specific measure. This provides a clearer unbiased perspective about how the process works and is perceived that is important to have when attempting to thoroughly understand an organization.
This article was published by the Harvard Kennedy School when they nominated the Citizens Initiative Review for the Public Engagement in Government Award. The article first discusses the importance of this kind of work and their history of and reasoning for giving the award. Then they get into the specifics of CIR in reference to why it was nominated. I think that this is an important source to include for two main reasons. For one, it marks a huge accomplishment and recognition for Healthy Democracy. Additionally, it gives an important outside perspective from a well-researched respected institution about Healthy Democracy and their CIR process. It also highlights some of the most compelling aspects of engagement that are evident in the process which is an important connection to have to class.