Altogether, 205 statewide measures (to say nothing of lots of local ones) await voters in assorted states this November, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most involve decisions already taken by state legislatures, which they are asking voters to ratify. But 81 of them have been placed on ballots directly by citizen groups. That is the highest number of citizen-driven measures since 1996, when widespread voter disgust triggered a slew of initiatives proposing term limits and restrictions on taxes and spending.
What do all of these propositions mean? Two things, and neither bode especially well for the Fall elections from an administrative point of view.
The first issue is that the ballots will be longer, which will mean that it will take voters longer to navigate through the voting process. In the current world of voting system transitions and VVPATs–where voters are expected to compare the VVPAT with the votes on the screen–the longer ballot makes everything more complicated for the voters.
The second issue is that initiatives boost turnout, which is a good thing generally, but will provide interesting issues for some jurisdictions in the midterm elections, especially in places that are transitioning to new voting systems. As The Economist article notes:
Ballot initiatives do seem to drive extra voters to the polls in mid-term elections, when turnout otherwise drops sharply. Daniel Smith of the University of Florida and Caroline Tolbert of Kent State University have looked at voting patterns from 1980-2002, and estimate that mid-term turnout goes up by an average of 1.7% for each initiative on the ballot. Mr Smith also points out that candidates do not gain just from higher turnout. Having an emotional issue on the ballot can also make it a bigger topic in the campaign, which tends to help the candidate whose backers put it there.
It will be interesting to see how the longer ballot and higher turnout affect different jurisdictions in the upcoming election.