Gastil on Public Deliberation from the Jury Room to Initiative Elections

Professor Dr. John Gastil of Penn State University has published Public Deliberation from the Jury Room to Initiative Elections, in Connections 2013: Citizens in Democratic Politics.

Here are excerpts:

The Kettering Foundation has worked with political communication scholar John Gastil for more than 20 years. In two recent visits to the foundation, he described his research […] about […] juries and the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, two deliberative processes. […]

I’ve been doing a study called the Jury and Democracy Project, which examines the jury in the United States. What got the study going was a natural experiment. We took archives from courthouses all over the US and got records of who served on juries and then got electoral histories and matched them with the voter lists. We had their voting histories for years long before and long after serving on juries. […]

Our project was not to study the effectiveness of juries, but we focused on what happens to a person when they serve on a jury. It is a unique experience among the things we are called upon to do as a citizen.

We just looked at impaneled jurors. […] We had such a large sample that enabled us to make many comparisons. If you deliberated, you became 5 percent more likely to vote after the experience. It is the deliberative complexity of your task that was key. The jury is a site for compassion and for community. […] If you found a criminal guilty, you became more active in community life, and this is really encouraging.

There is very strong evidence that this citizen-to-citizen body does deliberate. […]

‘[…] [The jury is] actually one of the most venerable of the modern forms of deliberation, but there are many new ones. I mention just one here, the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, which was created in 2009 to try to create institutionalized forms of deliberation. The state of Oregon has established a state law that in every initiative cycle, that is every two years, a couple of issues will be targeted for a special citizen deliberation. They select 24 random citizens, registered voters all, to study an initiative. They have a full week to study the issue, hear from pro and con advocates, bring in lists of witnesses, and develop a one-page statement that goes into the official voter’s guide sent to every Oregon household. Time and space is given. A week is quite sufficient to study these issues. Information is provided through intensive study and meeting with witnesses and advocates. The responsibility is tremendous; they feel it. They know what it’s like to be a voter, but here they are responsible for helping the voters understand the issue. And as they see the complexity, they even start debating about how to effectively convey information, not just what they need to know, but how to get it to busy voters. […]

The deliberation was remarkable. In one panel, they turned on a very popular issue. In another case, the pro side won. They were very thoughtful in what they arrived at. In 2011, a divided legislature made this permanent.

So that is, in a sense, my answer to the totality of the questions about getting citizens to engage, making good decisions, decisions oriented toward the common good [….]

For more details, please see the complete article.

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