Two public policy researchers are taking a cue from Oregon to help educate voters about the state constitutional convention question that will appear on Hawaii’s Nov. 6 ballot.

Colin Moore and Keith Mattson are gathering a group of about 20 voters to form a Citizens Initiative Review panel to review the pros and cons of holding a constitutional convention.

The panel will be comprised of neighborhood board members across Oahu and possibly some members of nonprofits. It is expected to publish a statement Oct. 10 with its findings — both pro and con.

“It gives a chance for voters to think about these issues without being lobbied by groups,” said Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Voters casting their ballots at Kawananakoa Middle School on August 9, 2014

A Citizens Initiative Review panel will study issues surrounding the constitutional convention question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Moore and Mattson are using an Oregon effort as a model for their effort to inform voters.

Researchers from Healthy Democracy — an Oregon-based nonprofit that pioneered the Citizens Initiative Review process — found that more than half of voters who read a statement from a review panel used it to inform their voting decisions on a ballot measure, according to Robin Teater, the organization’s director.

The Oregon program has access to more resources than the one planned in Hawaii. It was made part of the Oregon voting process in 2011. 

The Oregon group publishes pro and con lists for selected ballot measures that are included with elections materials like voters’ guides and sample ballots.

In Hawaii, the State Office of Elections doesn’t directly encourage voting, and the state doesn’t publish a voter’s guide.

The Hawaii panel’s statement would be published on a project website.

Oregonians received a stipend of about $600 for their participation in 2016, Teater said.

“It makes it accessible for people that need to take time off work,” Teater said, adding Healthy Democracy also reimburses for transportation, child and elder care costs.

A small stipend would be provided to members of Hawaii’s panel, according to a letter circulated to neighborhood board chairs.

While Oregon panel members follow a packed, four-day schedule to discuss their statements, Hawaii’s Citizens Initiative Review will have three meetings on Monday nights in September and October.

“We’ll be honest about our limitations replicating the Oregon model,” said Mattson, a planning consultant. “We want people to get the taste that this is different.”

Reaching a representative sample of Hawaii’s voting population also represents a challenge to Moore and Mattson.

Oregon’s CIR Commission collects a sample of 10,000 registered voters in the state to solicit for the CIR panel. From 200 to 500 people respond, and  20 to 24 are selected, Teater said.

Colin Moore, above, and Keith Mattson are organizing Hawaii’s first Citizens Initiative Review panel.

Panel members are selected to reflect the same demographics found in Oregon’s voting population, Teater said.

Moore and Mattson gathered names of potential panelists from each neighborhood board chair, about 50 in all. That represents another limitation since all of the boards are on Oahu.

They’ll narrow that list to the final panelists who they hope will represent a cross-section of Hawaii voters.

“This won’t be a perfect random sample of citizens,” Moore said, adding that he and Mattson will look at race, education and other demographic factors to get as close to the larger voting population as possible.

Mattson participated in a similar panel discussion called the “Con-Con Salon” organized by local mediator Peter Adler and UH graduate Jenna Leigh Saito. Adler and Saito brought together professors, students, consultants and executives to discuss issues revolving around the proposed constitutional convention such as the political landscape, the cost to taxpayers and the history of past con cons.

“We’ll draw from the information developed in that process,” Mattson said.

While the panel is meant to be representative, it will exclude anyone with current or former ties to groups, government officials or unions that have taken a stand on the con con question, Moore said.

“We’re not looking for people to advocate one position or another,” Moore said. “We’re really starting from a unique place here.”

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