Initiative Convention System

Citizens’ Initiatives are a unique point of access for everyday people to participate directly in the act of legislating.

Promise and Perils of the Initiative System:

In the 24 states that offer Citizens’ Initiatives, citizens have the opportunity to bypass their state legislature and put measures directly on the ballot. Creators of the initiative system foresaw what is painfully evident today: that legislators should not be the public’s sole means of influencing policy decisions. State legislatures are vulnerable to the polarization of national politics and often fail to reflect the multiple diversities of their electorates. Citizen-proposed ballot initiatives offer an invaluable counterweight to this system – ensuring that popular, pressing policy solutions can become law.

However, initiatives have become inaccessible to the vast majority of people. Signature-gathering campaigns alone cost an average of $2.1 million in 2020, effectively restricting participation to highly experienced and well-funded interest groups. This disproportionately impacts groups who lack resources, expertise, connections, and representation – groups who also tend to be excluded from current democratic systems. Given these barriers, residents living in states with initiative systems are largely cut off from their sole opportunity for direct democratic participation, and the systems cut off from the publics’ wisdom.

ICS process


Our Plan:

 

We want to fulfill the original potential of state initiative systems: to give everyday people unique political agency. For most of us, initiatives represent our only opportunity to be part of direct policy creation. In an Initiative Convention System, lottery-selected deliberative Assemblies – as diverse as our states – write initiatives. First, an Agenda Assembly collects information about pressing policy concerns from diverse stakeholders and prioritizes two topic areas. Second, two Drafting Assemblies research and deliberate on each topic and write initiative language. A Governance Commission made up of Assembly Members oversees each step to ensure process integrity. The Initiative Convention System draws on our expertise in democratic lotteries and citizen-led deliberation to create a multi-tiered, self-governing democratic architecture with three key parts – each a different flavor of lottery-selected citizen assembly:

  • An Agenda Assembly accepts proposals from members of the public, interest groups, and legislators. It prioritizes the two most important, unsolved political issues to bring to voters. These issues are each sent to a Drafting Assembly to develop into an initiative.
  • The Drafting Assemblies hear from dozens of experts and stakeholders, consult with legal advisors, and draft initiative language based on the prioritized issues. Signature-acquisition mailings are then coordinated for each resulting initiative.
  • Throughout the process, a Governance Commission composed of members of each Assembly meet to evaluate process rules, disputes, and staff.


Initiatives written by the drafting assemblies go to the ballot.

Lottery-Selection:

Like most of Healthy Democracy’s programs, the Initiative Convention System uses a process called lottery selection to bring new voices into public decision making. Using a democratic lottery ensures diversity and inclusiveness in two unique ways:
  1. Lotteries guarantee demographic diversity – a ‘microcosm of the community in one room’. For this project, we plan to select for representation across age, gender, race/ethnicity, political affiliation, geographic location, educational attainment, disability experience, and voter frequency (a measure of current political participation).

  2. Lotteries prioritize representation of those absent from current public decision-making, across all demographics. The extraordinary opportunity and potential influence of these bodies – and the generous stipend – help ensure that typically ~90% of Assembly Members have no previous civic participation experience.
The Initiative Convention System includes anyone 16 and up, guarantees universal accessibility, and incorporates several new equity-based innovations including direct outreach, support for marginalized communities, and affinity based caucusing.

Promise and Perils of the Initiative System:

Citizens’ Initiatives are a unique point of access for everyday people to participate directly in the act of legislating. In the 24 states that offer Citizens’ Initiatives, citizens have the opportunity to bypass their state legislature and put measures directly on the ballot. Creators of the initiative system foresaw what is painfully evident today: that legislators should not be the public’s sole means of influencing policy decisions. State legislatures are vulnerable to the polarization of national politics and often fail to reflect the multiple diversities of their electorates. Citizen-proposed ballot initiatives offer an invaluable counterweight to this system – ensuring that popular, pressing policy solutions can become law.


However, initiatives have become inaccessible to the vast majority of people. Signature-gathering campaigns alone cost an average of $2.1 million in 2020, effectively restricting participation to highly experienced and well-funded interest groups. This disproportionately impacts groups who lack resources, expertise, connections, and representation – groups who also tend to be excluded from current democratic systems. Given these barriers, residents living in states with initiative systems are largely cut off from their sole opportunity for direct democratic participation, and the systems cut off from the publics’ wisdom.

Current Model of the Initiative Process:

Current Initiative Process

Initiative Convention System:

ICS Process

Our Plan:

We want to fulfill the original potential of state initiative systems: to give everyday people unique political agency. For most of us, initiatives represent our only opportunity to be part of direct policy creation. In an Initiative Convention System, lottery-selected deliberative Assemblies – as diverse as our states – write initiatives. First, an Agenda Assembly collects information about pressing policy concerns from diverse stakeholders and prioritizes two topic areas. Second, two Drafting Assemblies research and deliberate on each topic and write initiative language. A Governance Commission made up of Assembly Members oversees each step to ensure process integrity. The Initiative Convention System draws on our expertise in democratic lotteries and citizen-led deliberation to create a multi-tiered, self-governing democratic architecture with three key parts – each a different flavor of lottery-selected citizen assembly:
  • An Agenda Assembly accepts proposals from members of the public, interest groups, and legislators. It prioritizes the two most important, unsolved political issues to bring to voters. These issues are each sent to a Drafting Assembly to develop into an initiative.
  • The Drafting Assemblies hear from dozens of experts and stakeholders, consult with legal advisors, and draft initiative language based on the prioritized issues. Signature-acquisition mailings are then coordinated for each resulting initiative.
  • Throughout the process, a Governance Commission composed of members of each Assembly meet to evaluate process rules, disputes, and staff.
Initiatives written by the drafting assemblies go to the ballot.

Lottery-Selection:​

Like most of Healthy Democracy’s programs, the Initiative Convention System uses a process called lottery selection to bring new voices into public decision making. Using a democratic lottery ensures diversity and Inclusiveness in two unique ways:
  1. Lotteries guarantee demographic diversity – a ‘microcosm of the community in one room’. For this project, we plan to select for representation across age, gender, race/ethnicity, political affiliation, geographic location, educational attainment, disability experience, and voter frequency (a measure of current political participation).
  1. Lotteries prioritize representation of those absent from current public decision-making, across all demographics. The extraordinary opportunity and potential influence of these bodies – and the generous stipend – help ensure that typically ~90% of Assembly Members have no previous civic participation experience.
The Initiative Convention System includes anyone 16 and up, guarantees universal accessibility, and incorporates several new equity-based innovations like direct outreach and support for marginalized communities.

LEARN MORE

READ OUR FULL GRANT PROPOSAL TO THE STRONGER DEMOCRACY AWARD

Get more details about how the Initiative Convention System works, the research that backs it up, how much it will cost, and how we will make it happen.

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