The Daily Brew: Ballotpedia Exclusive – Looking at 2021 statewide ballot language readability analysis

Welcome to the Thursday, September 23, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. 2021 statewide ballot measures written at second-year graduate school reading level
  2. Redistricting Roundup: Oregon House Speaker creates two special legislative committees to consider redistricting
  3. How Clallam County picks its governors 

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, which is equivalent to the second year of graduate school. That’s up three grade levels 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 fifth-grade reading level and scores at or below zero representing a 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:

  • The average grade level for ballot titles or questions in 2021 ranged from seven in Washington to 32 in Colorado.
  • In 2019, the average FKGL for ballot titles or questions of statewide ballot measures was 15. State scores ranged from nine to 27.
  • Ballotpedia identified 15 measures with a ballot summary set to appear alongside the ballot question. The average FKGL for the ballot summaries was 14. State scores 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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Redistricting Roundup: Oregon House Speaker creates two special legislative committees to consider redistricting

Here’s a summary of the week’s noteworthy redistricting news from Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin:

Nebraska: The Nebraska Senate voted to extend debate on both congressional and legislative map proposals after neither measure received enough votes to advance to a final vote.

The state’s unicameral legislature voted 29-17 in support of ending debate on the congressional map on Sept. 17, which was four votes short of the 33 necessary to advance. Twenty-nine Republicans voted to advance the maps and 16 Democrats and one Republican voted against. The Senate voted 27-18 on Sept. 20 to end debate on the legislative map, which was also short of the 33 votes needed to advance the proposal to a full vote. Members of the Nebraska Senate are officially nonpartisan; however, almost all of the members of the legislature are affiliated with the state affiliate of either the Democratic or the Republican Party. 

The Lincoln Journal-Star reported on Sept. 21 that Senate Speaker Mike Hilgers (R) said he may adjourn the legislature’s special redistricting session, which is expected to end by Sept. 30, without enacting new maps. Hilgers said if new maps are not approved this month, the legislature would take up redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries during the Senate’s regular session in January, which could force the state to delay next year’s primary elections.

Oregon: Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) announced the creation of two special legislative committees to review congressional and state legislative maps during the first day of the legislature’s special redistricting session on Sept. 20. Kotek appointed two Democrats and one Republican to the House Special Committee on Congressional Redistricting, and four Democrats and four Republicans to the House Special Committee on State Legislative Redistricting. Previously a single committee, the House Special Committee on Redistricting had the responsibility of considering both the legislative and congressional maps

Also, the Oregon Senate approved the Senate Redistricting Committee’s legislative and congressional redistricting proposals 18-11 on Sept. 20 along party lines. All 18 Democratic legislators voted to approve the maps, and 10 Republicans and one independent legislator voted against.

Wisconsin: On Sept. 16, a federal district court panel denied a motion by Republican legislators to dismiss a lawsuit asking the court to set a deadline for legislators to redraw district maps and intervene and draw the maps if the deadline was not met. The panel’s ruling stated, “The court and the parties must prepare now to resolve the redistricting dispute, should the state fail to establish new maps in time for the 2022 elections,” and the court would establish a schedule “that will allow for the timely resolution of the case should the state process languish or fail.”

Federal law requires that a three-judge panel hear constitutional challenges to congressional or state legislative redistricting plans. The judges on the panel were appeals court justice Amy St. Eve, James Peterson, and Edmond Chang. St. Eve was nominated to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by Donald Trump (R) and Chang and Peterson were nominated to the district court by Barack Obama (D).

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How Clallam County picks its governors 

Clallam County, Wash., knows how to pick a winner—at least when it comes to presidential politics.

Every four years, going back to 1980, it has voted for the winning presidential candidate, making it the county with the longest record of anticipating the country’s next commander-in-chief—whether Republican or Democrat. 

When it comes to casting its vote for Washington’s governor, Clallam County has struck a more consistent note, though one that is still mostly at odds with the rest of the state. Clallam has voted Republican in eight out of the last 11 gubernatorial elections. Washington, however, has selected a Democratic governor in every election since 1984.

Although Clallam has selected Republican governors since 2004, the results have been close with no more than a 10-point margin separating the Republican candidate from the Democratic one. In 2008, 2016, and 2020, the margin separating the two candidates was under two points, reflecting Clallam’s political diversity.

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About the author

Dave Beaudoin

Dave Beaudoin is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.