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GMO survey has no agenda

To the voters of Jackson County:

I have fielded a handful of emails this week about the voter survey I distributed in Jackson County this month, paid for with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

I thought it might be helpful to introduce myself more directly to the county via the Mail Tribune. My name is John Gastil. I'm a professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science at the Pennsylvania State University. I specialize in public deliberation and democracy. I have focused much of my recent work on a new form of public deliberation called the Citizens' Initiative Review process. The review aims to publicly evaluate ballot measures to give voters trustworthy information during elections.

This past week, I asked for your help with my study of your own electoral process by sending out a voter survey. Many of you have completed the survey, and I thank you for being so responsive.

Some voters have expressed concern about the survey, particularly because it arrived during an election. I have communicated directly with several of you to answer your questions about survey methodology, and later this year, I will share key findings via a guest opinion and a public report.

Meanwhile, here is some background: In 2009, the Oregon Legislature piloted the Citizens' Initiative Review, which legislators made permanent in 2011. The review randomly selects a demographically balanced panel of voters that hears directly from the campaigns and policy experts. At the conclusion, the panel drafts a "Citizens' Statement" highlighting its findings about the measure.

In late April, the Citizens' Initiative Review process was adapted for one of the issues in the Jackson County election. This provided a unique opportunity to study how voters use information in countywide elections, all with an eye toward improving the electoral process.

Funding from the National Science Foundation made the survey possible, and I chose to use an Oregon survey firm to handle the mailing and data collection. I also asked Secretary of State Kate Brown to write a letter of introduction urging voters to participate. I am grateful for her letter, which should help to ensure an excellent response rate.

The survey's only purpose is studying the electoral process and evaluating the Citizens' Initiative Review. There is no political agenda behind it.

I look forward to sharing with you the results of this research later this summer. Thanks to your generous participation, the results should provide a unique and detailed look into the dynamics of elections in your own county.

John Gastil is head of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences and director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University.