Are Your State's Ballots Difficult to Understand?

Are Your State's Ballots Difficult to Understand?

Have you ever been confused by a ballot initiative? The journal article “Ballot Question Readability and Roll-off: The Impact of Language Complexity” by Shauna Reilly and Sean Richey looks at ballot items between 1997 and 2007 to see how easy they are to understand.

The authors analyzed 1,211 ballot measures using a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level readability test. Usability experts frequently use the tool to analyze the words in a piece of text to determine the grade level necessary for understanding. This paragraph, for example, has a grade level of 13.0. Research using data from the National Center for Education Statistics puts the average reading level in the U.S. at the eighth grade.

(View the infographic.)

The authors found that in the decade studied, no state actually attained this level of readability. The 46 states assessed ranged from a 9th-grade to a 27th-grade reading level (see graphic) with an average statewide ballot measure coming in at a 17th-grade reading level. In other words, in order to properly understand the average ballot measure, it is best to have at least a year of graduate school under your belt.

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