Welcome to the Friday, January 19, Brew.
By: Samuel Wonacott
Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:
- Twenty-one states have adopted laws on ballot measure readability
- An average of about nine education-related measures have been on statewide ballots since 2000
- #FridayTrivia: How many statewide minimum wage increase measures have appeared on ballots since 1996?
Twenty-one states have adopted laws on ballot measure readability
Ballot measures, a form of direct democracy, allow voters to weigh in on laws, policies, and regulations affecting their communities and states. But how is the wording of ballot measures governed in the various states?
Twenty-one states have laws on how legislators, secretaries of state, or other election officials write the question or description of a ballot measure.
Seven of those states have a Democratic trifecta, 11 have a Republican trifecta, and four have a divided government. Eleven of the states with ballot measure readability laws provide for at least one form of statewide citizen-initiated ballot measure. Overall, 26 states have an initiative process, referendum process, or both at the statewide level.
The laws approach readability in a variety of ways.
- Some laws address only the ballot question (e.g. “Do you support an amendment to make appointed members of the State Civil Service Commission subject to confirmation by the Louisiana Senate?”), while others apply to the summaries.
- Five states—Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Tennessee—require everyday language or everyday meaning to be used when drafting questions or summaries.
- Other states’ criteria include words or phrases like clear, not misleading, simple, unbiased, concise, easily understood, or plain language. For example, Texas law for bond measures requires “a plain language description of the single specific purposes for which the debt obligations are to be authorized.”
New York and North Dakota were the most recent states to pass ballot measure readability laws, doing so last year 2023. The New York Legislature passed a law requiring that state ballot measure questions be written in plain language and at no higher than an eighth-grade reading level. A state board writes the ballot language in New York.
New York Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-14) wrote in his sponsor memo for the law, “An assessment of the readability of two ballot proposals submitted to the voters on the November 2021 ballot determined that voters needed a college reading comprehension level to understand the proposals. If voters cannot understand the text—or the implications of the question—they cannot participate effectively. The solution is writing ballot questions in plain language.”
In North Dakota, Senate Bill 2163 requires ballot summaries be written in “plain, clear, understandable language using words with common, everyday meaning.” The secretary of state, in consultation with the attorney general, writes the ballot summaries in North Dakota.
Ballotpedia has covered ballot measure readability since 2017. Each year, we publish the readability scores for all statewide ballot measure questions and summaries using Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL) formulas. The average readability score between 2017 and 2023 was 18.5 years of education—roughly akin to the reading level of a second-year graduate school student.
We also found that states with laws related to readability had an average ballot title grade level of 18.6, while states that did not have such laws had an average ballot title grade level of 18.4.
Here are some highlights from our 2023 report:
- 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.
- At 565 words, Ohio Issue 2 has the longest ballot title. 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.
- 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.
Click below to read more about ballot measure readability laws.
An average of about nine education-related measures have been on statewide ballots since 2000
Earlier this week, we took a deep dive into this year’s education-related ballot measures in Hall Pass, our weekly newsletter on school board politics and education policy. Subscribe here to stay on top of the biggest education stories this election cycle. Here’s a summary of what that story covered.
So far this year, voters in five states—Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, and Utah—will decide on six statewide measures affecting different facets of their education systems, from partisan school board elections to higher education governance and more.
Since 2000, an average of 8.7 education-related measures have appeared on ballots. In even-numbered years during that period, that average rises to 13.5 measures.
In addition to the certified measures, we’re following 19 statewide measures that could appear on ballots this year. Those deal with topics like prayer in schools, teacher pay, graduation requirements, education savings accounts, funding, and more.
Here’s a look at two certified measures we covered this week. Click here to see the full summary.
Voters will decide the Partisan School Board Elections Amendment on Nov. 5. The amendment would make school board elections partisan beginning in the November 2026 general election and for partisan primaries for the 2026 election.
Florida’s school board elections have been nonpartisan since 1998, when residents approved Amendment 11 in a 64.1% to 35.9% vote.
Amendment sponsor State Rep. Spencer Roach (R) said, “This is not about, at least for me, advancing the cause of one political party over another. But for me it’s about transparency, and I simply believe that we have an obligation to give voters as much information about a candidate as possible, and let them make a decision about vetting a candidate.”
Amendment opponent State Rep. Angela Nixon (D) said, “I believe this bill is not about transparency at all. This bill is about making our school-board elections and our school boards more contentious, more like D.C., which [Republicans] honestly always try to oppose.”
Four states — Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania — have state laws providing for partisan school board elections. Five states — Rhode Island, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia — allow partisan or nonpartisan school board elections depending on the district. School districts in 41 states hold nonpartisan elections.
On Nov. 5, Voters will decide the fate of the state’s scholarship tax credit program in a veto referendum on Nov. 5.
The veto referendum would repeal Legislative Bill 753, which the state Senate passed in 2023 in a 33-11 vote. LB 753 created a nonrefundable tax credit for qualifying taxpayers who contribute to scholarship-granting organizations for education scholarships.
Nebraska joined 25 other states in offering some form of education tax-credit program.
Jenni Benson, a sponsor of Support Our Schools Nebraska and president of the Nebraska State Education Association said, “The overwhelming success of this petition sends a clear message to the governor and state lawmakers: Nebraskans want to vote on the issue of diverting public tax dollars to pay for private schools.”
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (R), who introduced LB 753, said, “They’re saying that we are taking money away from the public schools. It is insulting to the Legislature, which appropriated $300 million in new dollars for education, on top of a billion-dollar Education Future Fund.”
#FridayTrivia: How many statewide minimum wage increase measures have appeared on ballots since 1996?
Since we’re on the topic of ballot measures…
Yesterday, we ran a story in the Brew on two measures Alaska voters could decide in 2024, one of which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The current minimum wage in Alaska is $11.73, and the state increased its minimum wage at the beginning of the year.
In addition to the one in Alaska, voters in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma could also have a chance to weigh in on minimum wage ballot measures this year.
How many minimum wage increase measures have appeared on ballots since 1996?