2021 statewide ballot measures written at second-year graduate school reading level

The ballot language for the 39 ballot measures appearing on nine statewide ballots in 2021 is written at an average reading grade level of 18 (second-year graduate school), up from 15 in 2019. 

Ballotpedia’s annual readability analysis of ballot titles and summaries of ballot measures was conducted using two formulas, the 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.

Here are some highlights from this year’s report:

  • On average in 2021, ballot titles or questions were written at a reading grade level of 18 (second-year graduate school).
  • The average ballot title or question grade level by state in 2021 ranged from seven in Washington to 32 in Colorado.
  • In 2019, the average Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level for the ballot titles or questions of statewide ballot measures was 15 years of formal U.S. education, and average state scores ranged from nine to 27.
  • Ballotpedia identified 15 measures with a ballot summary that was set to appear along with the ballot question on the ballot. The average Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level for the ballot summaries was 14.
  • The average ballot summary grade by state ranged from nine in Louisiana to 17 in Pennsylvania.
  • The average ballot title or question grade was highest for ballot titles written by secretaries of state (25) and other state boards and offices (21).
  • The Washington Attorney General wrote the titles with the lowest average grade level of seven.
  • The average ballot title or question in 2021 contained about 53 words. In 2019, the average ballot title length was 41 words.
  • The 2021 ballot measure with the longest ballot title was Colorado Proposition 119, which concerns an out-of-school education program and marijuana sales tax increase. The ballot question is 142 words.
  • The states with the shortest ballot titles or questions on average were Texas, Washington, and Maine; none of the three states featured additional ballot summaries or explanations on the ballot.

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