Informed Decisions: Public Debates, Referendums and Polls
Meaningful, rational self-governance can only exists if public decisions are based on true and balanced information.
To make well-informed decisions on referendum issues, the entire public must be educated on the issues being presented for voting. This is achieved through well-publicized series of Public Debates that precede the voting.
Before the debates take place, the Debates Agency forms an Issue Panel for each referendum issue. The panels are comprised of experts who are advocates for each of the policy issue alternatives as well as independent members selected randomly from the public.
Issue Panels receive a list of the policy issue alternatives from the National Proposal Bank. These are the policy alternatives that were received from the public during the annual request for public proposals. The Issue Panel then extracts the most common alternatives from the diverse list of proposals and prepares the arguments for and against each of the policy alternatives. The Issue Panel also prepares the debate information for the public
Referendum Juries supervise the actions of the Issue Panel. The Referendum Jury makes sure that the final policy options decided by the panel correctly represents the content of the public proposals. The Referendum Jury also ensures that the arguments for the public debate are factual and not manipulative.
Next, the material from the Issue Panels is used for the public debates that are organized by the Debates Agency. The conduct of the debates is supervised by the Referendum Jury and the Debates Ombudsman to ensure a fair, informative and non-manipulative presentation.
It is vital that the debate materials are made easily available to the public. Therefore the debates are made easy to access, and are presented in the mass media. The main issues and their arguments are listed in newspapers, information sheets and are also available on computer networks for easy reference and study in the home. To encourage viewing, debates may be combined with entertainment. Each issue is highlighted in the newspapers and on television on a specific "Issue Day." Indeed, the information is so prevalent that the average citizen does not have to make an effort to obtain it. On the contrary, it would be difficult for a citizen not to be informed.
Polls are similar to referendums except that polls are voted on by a representative group of the public that constitutes a statistically accurate cross-section of the general public. Polls are less expensive than referendums and the poll respondents can receive more detailed education about the issues than it is possible to communicate to the general public.
Preparations for Public Polls are similar to the preparations for referendums, but they are aimed at a much smaller voting audience.
The Debates Agency forms an Issue Panel for each poll issue. The panels are comprised of experts who are advocates for each of the policy issue alternatives as well as independent members selected randomly from the public. The tasks of the poll Issue Panels are similar to those performed by the Issue Panels in preparing for a referendum. They have to identify the issue alternatives and prepare the issue information packs. For those poll issue requests that arise from an Expert Agency instead of the public, it becomes the panel's responsibility to define the policy alternatives.
Voting in a poll is done by a group of Poll Respondents who are randomly selected from the public. The number of respondents must be large enough to represent the overall voting public. For example, there may be 2,000 respondents for each poll.
The Issue Panel prepares information packs for the poll respondents in the same way that debate material is prepared before referendums. The material is then reviewed by the Poll Jury and by the Poll Public Ombudsman to ensure that the material is balanced and not manipulative. Poll respondents are therefore informed before a poll in the same way that the public would be informed before a referendum. In this manner, a poll is a substitute for a referendum, but of course, at a much smaller expense.