SALEM — If the vote by a Citizens’ Initiative Review panel is any indication, the arguments will be robust for and against a proposed Oregon requirement for labeling of foods with genetically modified organisms – and the outcome of Measure 92 will be close.
Sunday’s vote by the panel, which consisted of voters randomly chosen to reflect the state’s diversity, was 11 against and nine for the ballot measure.
It could have been even closer. One panelist said she still was undecided, but under the rules of the review, participants had to vote yes or no. Their votes were secret.
Still, the decision-making process that led to the vote was so civil “that I have hope again for Oregonians,” says Josephine MacLeod of Hillsboro.
The panelists came to their recommendation, and adopted findings and key arguments for and against Measure 92, after 3 1/2 days of study at the Salem Convention Center.
Panelists were drawn together from across the state to listen to supporters and opponents, ask questions, and then discuss their report that will be reproduced in the state voters pamphlet and online voter guide.
A separate panel weighed in last week on Measure 90, which would allow the top two finishers in a primary – regardless of party affiliation – to advance to the general election.
Both sides on Measure 92 say they made their points.
“We believe, like a majority of the people considering it for the Citizens’ Initiative Review, that a majority of Oregon voters are going to say no,” says Pat McCormick, spokesman for the campaign against Measure 92.
McCormick did say he does not expect Oregon voters to reject Measure 92 on the Nov. 4 ballot by the 70 percent majority that defeated a similar measure in 2002.
California voters rejected a similar measure by 51 percent in 2012, and Washington voters, 55 percent in 2013, after a record amount of spending for a statewide campaign.
A similar measure is on the statewide ballot in Colorado, where a citizen review will take place for the first time in September. Arizona is the other state where a citizen review process will be tested this year.
According to a DHM Research poll conducted June 25-30, 77 percent of 400 voters surveyed say they favor a labeling measure. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
While most voters will not get the same intensive course of study as the 20 panelists on the Citizens’ Initiative Review, McCormick says, “there will be a lot of opportunities for voters to get information and when they consider the implications of this measure, you will see a similar result.”
The spokesman for the Yes on 92 campaign says opponents were able to persuade just enough panelists with what he described as discredited or outdated cost studies from previous campaigns.
“But we’re heartened by the commission’s support of the central argument that Oregonians have a right to know what is in the food we eat and feed our families,” says Sandeep Kaushik of Oregon Right to Know. “This just shows we’ll need to fight hard to combat the misleading and deceptive tactics of the opposition.”
Ernest Estes, a lawyer from Portland on the panel, acknowledges that the underlying issue for panelists was how people perceive food and food safety.
“It was more strongly felt than I anticipated before this process,” he said after the vote.
While Estes says the process did not change his views – which he did not disclose – “it made me a better informed citizen.”
Robert Clements of Klamath Falls, another panelist, felt much the same.
“It did not change my view of the subject,” says Clements, who also did not disclose how he voted.
“But it changed how I saw the people for and against this measure – where they were coming from and why they support or oppose it.”
Measure 92 was the first considered by review panels over the past three election cycles to involve a controversy over scientific information.
“I didn’t know what to think, and I was apprehensive at first,” says Inga Sprinkel of Hillsboro, another panelist. “But after the first day, it was wonderful. They were good about responding to our questions.”
Sprinkel says the process resulted in strengthening her position, which she did not disclose.
The panels are conducted by Healthy Democracy, a nonprofit that works under the Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission. After pilot attempts in 2008 and 2010, lawmakers set up the commission in 2011 to oversee the panel reviews, which undergo an independent evaluation.