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Can deliberation help reform the initiative process?

NCDD Supporting Member, Jim Fishkin (creator of Deliberative Polling) had a great op-ed published in the New York Times on the 10th.  The article, titled “How to Fix California’s Democracy Crisis,” considers whether citizen deliberation can improve the initiative process in California.

This is a must-read article if you’re interested in the relationship between deliberative democracy and the initiative process (which many consider direct democracy).

Here’s an excerpt from the article where Jim reflects on What’s Next California — the first statewide deliberative poll…

My colleagues and I heard all of these concerns when we gathered a scientific sample of more than 400 of the state’s registered voters in Torrance over the weekend of June 24-26, to discuss the ballot initiative and other elements of California governance. Our project, known as What’s Next California?, was the first statewide deliberative poll — a poll that gathers a scientific sample of respondents to answer questions both before and after they have had a chance to deliberate competing arguments and trade-offs. It provides a window on what voters think of direct democracy and what changes they would, and would not, support. Despite the evident problems, California voters have more confidence in the ballot initiative than they do in other elements of their state government. After spending a weekend immersing themselves in the issues and questioning competing experts about possible reforms, 65 percent of the sample expressed disappointment with California’s state government in general and 70 percent expressed disappointment in the Legislature, but only 37 percent were disappointed in the ballot initiative.

They do think the system needs reform, but in many cases not the reforms championed by policy elites. The popularity of proposals to involve the Legislature in the initiative process sank once voters in our poll discussed their implications. After deliberating, they did not want the Legislature to be able to place a counter-measure on the ballot or to amend an initiative that has passed, or even to remove an initiative from the ballot by enacting it into law. They held the Legislature in low regard (at an approval rate of only 14 percent). They viewed the ballot initiative as “the people’s process,” and they wanted the Legislature to keep its hands off it.

Read the full article at:


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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Evan Ravitz says:

    Oregon is the first state to incorporate deliberation in its initiative process. Citizen Initiative Review has randomly-selected citizen “juries” hold hearings and deliberations on each ballot initiative: http://HealthyDemocracyOregon.org

    Senator Mike Gravel’s National Initiative for Democracy, the most evolved and likely plan for NATIONAL ballot initiatives, incorporates similarly provides for “Deliberative Committees”: http://Vote.org

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