Press Release: Ballotpedia releases Sunshine Week transparency analysis
Contact: Amanda Grimmett
Study finds discrepancies among states in provision of information about local ballot measure elections
Madison - March 11, 2013: The staff of Ballotpedia is kicking off its celebration of Sunshine Week today with the release of a new report on the availability of information about local ballot measure elections on the statewide level.
The study investigated the ease of access to online, searchable databases for information about local ballot measures in all 50 states. In 20 states, the authors were unable to locate any central database for local elections or ballot measures. The remaining 30 states were evaluated on whether information in the database included: the date of the election, official election results, the official ballot name or title of the local ballot measure, the name of the local jurisdiction in which the ballot measure was being decided, and the full text of the ballot question.
Researchers found that 19 states have a state agency - such as a Secretary of State or State Board of Elections - that covers local ballot measure elections in a general way, 4 states have state agencies that provide information exclusively about school bond and tax elections, and 8 states have private organizations that maintained a database of local bond and tax measures.
At the local level, a study in 2012 of 738 counties in 11 states revealed that 32% did not have local websites that displayed election information.
This study uncovered significant differences among the state databases in both the amount of information and its accessibility. Most archives are arranged according to election year, but some are searchable along a number of criteria such as location of election or type of ballot measure. 78% of all databases provided vote totals and/or percentages - rather than simply showing whether the measure was approved or defeated - but only 33% included the text of the ballot questions. On average, the databases had 15.5 years of information available, though 16% did not include information for election in 2012 or 2013.
Although this research indicates a disparity in the accessibility of information of local ballot measures on the state level, there are a few states that, when their representatives were interviewed as part of the study, seem to be making changes:
- The Vermont Elections Division is currently working to redevelop its database to make it easier for municipalities to use for storing and posting election information. The project is expected to be finished and available for full use in 4 years.
- The Massachusetts Department of Elections website is brand new, with a new database that will continue to be updated.
- The Oregon Elections Division has local election information available through its voter registry department and runs specific reports compiling certain statistics and records for various agencies, but they do not post any of the data publicly on their website because there has not been a demand for this information.
While it may be that citizens aren't requesting this type of information on a scale that warrants change at the state level, the popularity of local measures and issues - and clear information about them - is on the rise across the nation. In 2012, $22.2 billion in school bonds were approved in 11 states that Ballotpedia researchers surveyed. The overall approval rating was 84.4% - an increase of 15% from 2011. As more of these measures win voter approval, people will start seeking out information about local ballot measures, past and present. Is your state ready?
The complete analysis is available online.
Established in 2007, Ballotpedia is a nonprofit and nonpartisan collaborative wiki encyclopedia designed to connect people to politics through the free and open sharing of information. It includes information about the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, ballot measures (including ballot measure law, school bond and tax elections, recall elections and local ballot measures), and state executives. Ballotpedia is published by the non-profit, non-partisan Lucy Burns Institute, which is based in Madison, Wisconsin.
If you’d like more information, or to schedule an interview with Ballotpedia’s project manager, please contact Amanda Grimmett at Amanda.Grimmett@lucyburns.org.