Ballotpedia exclusive – our 2023 readability report on ballot measures

Welcome to the Monday October 23, 2023, Brew. 

By: Juan Garcia de Paredes

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. 2023 statewide ballot measures written at graduate school reading level
  2. Previewing the Woodland Park School District RE-2 school board in Colorado
  3. All candidates for Douglas County School District Board of Directors District A complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

2023 statewide ballot measures written at graduate school reading level

Since 2017, we’ve reported on ballot measure readability. Our 7th edition of this report assesses the level of education voters would need to understand the ballot titles and summaries of statewide ballot measures. 

This year’s 41 statewide ballot measures, distributed across eight states, have an average reading level of 19 (akin to a third-year graduate school level). This is an increase from the average of 18 years in 2021, the previous odd year.

We use the Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL) formulas to calculate a readability score for each ballot measure. That score is equivalent to the estimated number of years of U.S. education required to understand a text. Measurements used in calculating readability scores include 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.

Ballotpedia also identified five measures with a ballot summary that appears next to the ballot question. The average grade level needed to read these summaries was 22. That’s the first time since we started analyzing ballot measure readability scores that the average grade for summaries exceed the average ballot title grade.

The average ballot title grade for all measures in a single state ranged from 12 in New York and Ohio to 35 in Colorado.

The average ballot title had 73 words this year. In the last odd-year election in 2021, the average was 53 words.

Ohio’s average 336-word ballot title was the highest in the country. Texas had the lowest average at 33.

The ballot measure with the longest ballot title was Ohio Issue 2, with 565 words. That measure asked voters to decide on recreational marijuana legalization. Texas Proposition 13 had the shortest ballot title at 15 words. The measure asks voters to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 75 to 79.

Here are other highlights from the report:

  • In 2023, the measure with the highest grade level score—meaning it was the most difficult to read—was Colorado Proposition II, with a title grade level of 43. New York Proposal 1 had the lowest score—meaning it was the easiest to read—with a grade of 11.
  • Five measures had ballot summaries with grades ranging from 17 years to 30 years. 
  • Citizen initiatives had an average title grade of 14. Measures state legislatures put on the ballot had an average title grade of 20.
  • The average ballot title grade was highest for ballot titles states legislatures wrote (21) and lowest for state boards (12).

You can find a summary of the report’s findings in the tables below:

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Previewing the Woodland Park School District RE-2 school board in Colorado

Thousands of school board members will be elected in races across the country on Nov. 7. Over the past few weeks, we’ve brought you in-depth coverage of elections across the country—including in Douglas County School District, just south of Denver, Colorado, the Richland School District in Benton County, Washington, the Anoka-Hennepin County school board races in Minnesota, and the Central Bucks School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Today, we’ll look at the Woodland Park School District RE-2 school board in Teller County, Colorado. The district, located northwest of Colorado Springs, is the 52nd largest school district in the state, with approximately 1,804 students during the 2021-2022 school year.

Six candidates are running for three seats in the general election. While school board elections are nonpartisan, a slate of conservative candidates won four of the five seats on the board in 2021. 

The three seats up for election this year are District A, District C, and District D. 

Incumbents Mick Bates (District A), Dave Illingworth II (District C), and Cassie Kimbrell (District D) are running as a slate. Illingworth is one of the four conservative candidates who won in 2021. Bates and Kimbrell were appointed to replace board members who resigned in 2022. Local Republican elected officials have endorsed all three incumbents. 

The slate’s campaign priorities include: academic achievement, parental involvement, teacher wages and benefits, history and civics, school choice, and education in trades.

Challengers Seth Bryant (District A), Keegan Barkley (District C), and Mike Knott (District D) are also running as a slate. Their slate’s campaign priorities include: quality education, safe schools, removing personal political agendas, removing untested educational standards, ensuring access to state-mandated resources, fiscal responsibility, teacher training and retention, and counseling and mental health services.

The challengers are also campaigning against the board’s adoption of the American Birthright social studies standard. According to the Civics Alliance, the coalition that created the standard, the American Birthright standard “teaches students to identify the ideals, institutions, and individual examples of human liberty, individualism, religious freedom, and republican self-government.” 

The National Council for the Social Studies, a professional association that focuses on social studies education, criticized the standard and said it is “an attempt to return to a time when United States social studies classrooms presented a single narrative of U.S. and Western history that glorified selected aspects of history while minimizing the experiences, contributions, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, people of color, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, the working class, and countless others.” 

The Colorado State Board of Education voted against adopting the American Birthright standard in October 2022, while Woodland Park was the first school district in the country to adopt it in January 2023. In Colorado, the state sets minimum content standards, while local districts develop their own curricula that must meet minimum content standards. To learn more about K-12 education content standards in Colorado and other states, click here

Another central issue in the race has been the board’s media relations policy. In February 2023, the board updated its media relations policy to prohibit employees from speaking to the media without the superintendent’s consent. The Woodland Park Education Association sued the district in August 2023, “seeking to strike down a prohibition on employees speaking to the press or posting on social media about school matters without the superintendent’s prior approval.” The district said removing the media policy would increase criticism and disrupt operations. As of Oct. 9, 2023, U.S. Magistrate Judge Maritza Dominguez Braswell had agreed to mediate the dispute.  

To learn more about this race, click the link below. 

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All candidates for Douglas County School District Board of Directors District A complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Let’s stay in Colorado and turn to another school district. Both candidates running in the nonpartisan Nov. 7, 2023, general election for Douglas County School District Board of Directors District A—incumbent Susan Meek and Andy Jones—completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. These survey responses allow voters to hear directly from candidates about what motivates them to run for office.

Here are the candidates’ responses to the question: How would you support the diverse needs of your district’s students, faculty, staff, and community?


“Public schools operate most effectively when there exists a robust and trusting partnership among parents, teachers/staff, and students. Achieving a balance among these stakeholders necessitates continuous dedication to collaboration, empathy, and fairness. The ultimate objective is to establish an educational setting that places the academic achievement and well-being of every student at the forefront, while concurrently valuing the viewpoints and contributions of students, parents, teachers/staff, and the wider school community.

Among my key priorities is the establishment of safe and welcoming schools. This entails working closely with parents, teachers, and students to continually review and refine all school policies. The voice of each stakeholder group is essential to maintain balance and each of these stakeholders have rights that help provide a roadmap for charting the course forward.

Another top priority is the cultivation of a culture characterized by trust, transparency, and accountability. This requires the establishment of transparent lines of communication with parents, teachers, and students to actively seek their input and provide regular updates on board decisions and ongoing initiatives.

Ultimately, attaining this equilibrium among the interests of parents, teachers/staff, and students hinges on a steadfast commitment to shared values and objectives. By placing a safe, welcoming environment, stable teaching and learning environments, equal opportunities for every student, and a culture of trust at the forefront, the board can foster an environment where all individuals feel respected, supported, and empowered to contribute to the success of our great school district.”


“From top to bottom, the value of ‘Every Employee, Every Day’ will ensure that Douglas County schools are the desired and final destination for every employee. We have to do better at not only recruiting and retaining our best employees, but also increasing the quality of life for those employees.

  • We pay every professional a flexible and competitive compensation that honors the employee’s contribution to our kids.
  • As one board member, I will empower our superintendent to ensure that every level of management is prepared to evaluate authentically, provide professional growth opportunities and that every employee has reasonable means to address his or her grievances.

I have been a stalwart defender of our teachers and staff. No one else in the community queried the superintendent and board for how they mishandled teacher pay raises as a result of 2018 mill levy override. I stood at three public comments (Nov 2018, Jan and May 2019) asking the hard questions that the board should have asked about how little teachers were getting (2.76% average) and held them accountable. NO ONE ELSE DID THAT!”

Click on the candidates’ profile pages below to read their full responses to this and other questions.

We ask all federal, state, and local candidates with profiles on Ballotpedia to complete a survey and share what motivates them on political and personal levels. Ask the candidates in your area to fill out the survey!

Click the link below for more information on the Nov. 7 Douglas County School District Board election. 

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