A look at the past 3 years: What to expect from 2012 state ballot measure voter guides

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September 13, 2012

By Lauren Rodgers

MADISON, WI: With the primary election season drawing to a close, the offices of the nation’s secretaries of state can now focus their energies on the general election. In 37 states, that means preparing guides to educate voters about the 173 statewide ballot measures they will have to decide on in November.*

Most of these guides will be published in the next few weeks, and they can be useful tools to help voters make decisions about the statewide measures that will be on their ballots. Unfortunately, the utility of these guides varies dramatically among states. Ballotpedia staff have, once again, made it a little easier to figure out which guides are the most reliable and which need improvement.

Earlier this week, we released an extensive three-year study of official voter guides for state ballot measures. The comparative study, using data collected from 2009-2011, evaluated voter guides from 41 states and ranked each state on a six-point scale, based on the overall quality of its official voter guide. Nine states (21.95%) received a rating of either "Excellent" or "Very Good," compared with 24 states (58.5%) that received a rating of either "Poor" or "Fair."

*Some states are still certifying ballot measures, so this figure may increase.

WashingtonOregonCaliforniaIdahoNevadaUtahArizonaMontanaWyomingColoradoNew MexicoAlaskaHawaiiTexasOklahomaKansasNebraskaNorth DakotaSouth DakotaMinnesotaIowaMissouriArkansasLouisianaMississippiTennesseeAlabamaGeorgiaFloridaSouth CarolinaNorth CarolinaVirginiaKentuckyIllinoisWisconsinIndianaMichiganMichiganOhioWest VirginiaMarylandMarylandWashington, D.C.DelawareDelawareConnecticutPennsylvaniaNew JerseyNew JerseyNew YorkVermontNew HampshireRhode IslandMassachusettsMaineVermontNew HampshireMassachusettsConnecticutRhode IslandVoterGuideMap.png

"Of the states that featured measures on the ballot, only 21.9% had complete ballot measure information," explained Bailey Ludlam, the lead researcher of the voter guide study. "Certain states, like California, Oregon and Arizona, have a strong reputation of providing really comprehensive voter guides to residents. Not only do they all have the six key factors we measured, they publish their guide on-line, send it out via regular mail, and make it available in multiple languages."

Ludlam went on to explain that making ballot measure information readily available - and in multiple formats - leads to increased voter knowledge and, ultimately, citizen engagement. She remains hopeful that "this year, as states begin to release their 2012 voter guides, we'll see a greater effort on the part of state governments to make this information more widely available."


For a complete explanation of the methodology and more detailed analysis, see: Features of official voter guides, compared by state

Each guide was given a numerical rank depending on whether it has the official ballot language, a neutral explanation or analysis, a fiscal impact statement, arguments for and against the measure, a statement of legal changes and is available in multiple languages. Ballotpedia staff then contacted all 41 secretaries of state to gather information about voter guide accessibility, the method of distribution, the cost of mailing the voter guides and whether or not ballot measures and candidates were included in the same publication. This empirical dataset is included for 40 of the 41 secretaries of state; officials from South Carolina did not respond to requests for information.

Here's a breakdown of how many states had each of the six key components for a comprehensive voter guide to statewide ballot measures.

Feature How many guides....
Had this feature? Did not have this feature?
Ballot title 39 2[1]
Explanation/analysis 26 15[2]
Text of new law 26 15[3]
Pro/con arguments 18 23[4]
Multiple languages 13 28[5]
Fiscal note 11 30[6]

See also


  1. States that did not the "ballot title" included: Michigan and New York.
  2. States that did not have the "Explanation/analysis" included: Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Vermont.
  3. States that did not have "Test of new law" included: Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont.
  4. States that did not have "Pro/con arguments" included: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia.
  5. States that did not feature "Multiple languages" included: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
  6. States that did not feature a "fiscal note" included: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.