Ballotpedia’s 2019 ballot measure readability scores—How easy is it to understand what’s on your ballot?

In 2019, 36 statewide ballot measures were certified for ballots in eight states. Ballotpedia scored the readability of ballot titles and summaries using two formulas–Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL). The FRE formula produces a score between a negative number and 100, with the highest score (100) representing a 5th-grade equivalent reading level and scores at or below zero representing college graduate-equivalent reading level. The FKGL formula produces a score equivalent to the estimated number of years of U.S. education required to understand a text. Both formulas used in calculating readability scores depend on the number of syllables, words, and sentences in a text. Other factors, such as the complexity of an idea in a text, are not reflected in readability scores.
 
The average FKGL score for 2019 ballot measure titles or questions is 15 years of formal U.S. education. The range of scores is 6 to 27 years. The average FRE score for 2019 ballot measure titles is 26. The scores range from -22 to 69.
 
Measures in some states are given additional explanations beyond the ballot title or question. The average FKGL for these ballot summaries or explanations in 2019 is 15 years of formal U.S. education. The average FRE score for ballot measure summaries is 25.
 
The states with the lowest average FKGL scores for ballot titles or questions are Washington, Pennsylvania, and Maine with 9, 10, and 17, respectively.
 
The states with the highest average FKGL scores for ballot titles or questions are Colorado, Kansas, and Texas with 27, 23, and 20.
 
Average ballot title grades were lowest for language written by the Washington Attorney General (9) and initiative petitioners (10). Average ballot title grades were highest for language written by state legislatures (20).
 
Ballotpedia also measures the word length of ballot titles across states. The states with the longest ballot titles or questions in 2019 on average are Kansas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Colorado; all of these except New Jersey did not feature additional ballot summaries or explanations. The states with the shortest ballot titles or questions on average are Texas, Maine, Louisiana, and Washington.
 
Compared to the last odd-year election, the average FKGL score for ballot titles for 2019 dropped. The average FKGL score for the 27 2019 statewide ballot measures was 20 years of formal education. The range of scores for 2017 was also wider, ranging from 7 to 42.
 



About the author

Victoria Antram

Victoria Antram is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at victoria.antram@ballotpedia.org.

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