Ballotpedia releases year-end analysis of statewide ballot measures

On December 15, Ballotpedia released its year-end analysis of statewide ballot measures in 2020.

Voters in 34 states decided 129 statewide ballot measures in 2020. Ninety-three were approved and 36 were defeated. One hundred and twenty measures were on the November 3 ballot. Nine measures were on ballots earlier in the year or on December 5. There were also three measures (one each) in the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All three were approved.

Ballotpedia’s annual report on the 129 statewide measures provides:

a breakdown of measures by topic

highlighted topics and unique measures

a breakdown of approval rates by measure type

historical comparisons of the numbers and types of measures

data on citizen initiative activity compared to recent elections

a summary of signature petition drive costs

campaign finance data and analysis

a comparison of the number of referrals to previous years

a summary of Ballotpedia’s ballot language readability analysis

a summary of bond and tax measures in 2020

Below are some highlights from the report. For more information, graphics, and data, read the full analysis.

Topics and trends

Notable topics and trends this year included election policy and redistricting, marijuana, and taxes.

Statewide measures also included:

• the first-ever appearance of gig-economy policies on a statewide ballot, 

• unique psilocybin mushroom use and drug-crime policy measures, 

• wolf reintroduction, 

• a veto referendum on cash bail, 

• an affirmative action initiative, and 

• state flag and state name change measures.

Citizen initiative activity and historical context

The 129 statewide measures voted on this year were the lowest number on even-year ballots since at least 1980. The recent high point was in 1998, with 272 measures. This year’s total is 26% lower than the average of 172 statewide measures in even-numbered years from 2010 through 2018. 

The 43 citizen-initiated measures on the ballot were also less than in most recent years. The 2020 ballot initiative numbers were higher than in 2014, when 40 citizen-initiated measures made the ballot. It was 27% less than the 2010 to 2018 average of 59 measures. It was 43% lower than the 76 citizen-initiated measures in 2016. Of the 43 citizen initiatives, four were veto referendums, 15 were initiated constitutional amendments, and 24 were initiated state statutes.

In 2020, 881 initiative and veto referendum proposals were filed. In 2016 and 2018, there were 1,069 and 947 filings, respectively. Initiative sponsors had about a 5% success rate qualifying their measures for the ballot after making the initial filing with state officials. In 2016 and 2018, the success rate was 7%.

Signature petition costs

Of the 26 states that allow citizen-initiated measures, 16 had a ballot initiative, veto referendum, or both on the ballot in 2020. At least $87.23 million was spent on signature petition drives to collect the more than 11 million signatures required to qualify the 43 citizen-initiated measures for the ballot. 

The average cost of a petition drive in 2020 was $2.1 million—nearly double the 2018 average of $1.2 million and more than twice the 2010 to 2018 average of $871,468. The cost of successful paid signature petition drives ranged from $108,358 for a pre-November veto referendum in Maine to $8.8 million for Florida Amendment 4. 

The average cost per required signature (CPRS) for 2020 measures of $8.09 was 24% higher than the average in 2018 ($6.52) and nearly double the 2010 to 2018 average of $4.70.

Campaign finance

Committees supporting and opposing the 129 statewide measures this year reported raising a combined $1.20 billion in contributions. In 2016 and 2018, ballot campaigns raised $1.01 billion and $1.19 billion, respectively. The average amount raised in 2020 was $9.3 million, compared to $6.2 million and $7.1 million in 2016 and 2018.

The 43 citizen-initiated measures accounted for about 78% of ballot measure fundraising in 2020. Support campaigns raised 63.1% of contributions, and opposition campaigns raised 36.9%. 

California had 61.5% of all ballot measure campaign finance activity in 2020. Of the 10 most expensive measures in 2020, eight were citizen-initiated measures and two were legislatively referred measures. Six were in California. The other four were in Illinois, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Alaska.

Readability

The average Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score for this year’s ballot titles was 17—equivalent to a first-year graduate school reading level. The average grade for all measures in a single state averaged together ranged from 10 in Rhode Island, Washington, and Wyoming to 32 in Virginia.

Bond and tax measures

Seven bond measures proposed a total of $20.82 billion in new debt in California ($20.5 billion), Maine ($120 million), and New Mexico ($199 million). A $15 billion school and college bond in California failed. The other six were approved.

Voters in 14 states decided 21 ballot measures on tax policy. Seventeen of the measures were approved and four were defeated.




About the author

Josh Altic

Josh Altic is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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