In Italy, Voters Pay for Ballot Information – But There’s a Better Way

Brexit, Colombia, Turkey . . . time and time again this year we have pointed out examples of where a citizen-based review of confusing, high stakes ballot measures could have made a real difference in countries around the world. People the world over have lamented the poor understanding that voters report after casting a ballot on these national referenda, while the voters themselves in the impacted countries also report being confused at the time they voted.

Photo by flickr user caribb.
The Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies

The latest case is the upcoming Italian referendum, where voters will go to the polls on December 4th and vote on a major referendum that would reshape the government and, depending on the outcome, have a significant impact on European financial systems and international trade. Yet according to Italian firm Demopolis, 9 of 10 Italians report that they are confused about the measure. The problem is so acute that a startup called ProntoPro is charging voters about $150 per hour to talk to a constitutional expert about what the measure will do.

This is preposterous. Access to high quality, straightforward, trustworthy information about ballot measures should be freely available to ALL voters, not just those who can pay hundreds of dollars. Italy could very cheaply provide this information to voters as a public service by implementing a Citizens’ Referendum Review, much like the Citizens’ Initiative Reviews that are an official part of Oregon elections – and are spreading in popularity in states such as Arizona, Massachusetts, and Colorado. In Oregon, the statement produced by the Citizens’ Initiative Review goes to the home of every voter as a part of the official Voters’ Guide distributed by the Secretary of State’s office.

The power of direct democracy is a great responsibility. The very least we can do is provide equal access to basic information when asking voters to perform this enormous and consequential act.