LOS ANGELES, CA – As we kick off the election cycle with the Texas primaries, the first in the 2022 election cycle, a resource that has been growing and building the past many cycles is now at a point of depth and sophistication that gives us no excuse to remain uninformed about our candidates.
Ballotpedia has been around since 2007 with a mission to get neutral and accurate information to every consumer free of cost, about American politics at every level of government.
In a world where everything is partisan, the nonpartisan Ballotpedia does its best to convey the information in a neutral bite size format. I spoke to Josh Altic from the organization.
“Besides elections, we also cover policy and process and everything from federal elections down to statewide elections, school board elections, city elections, ballot measures.”
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With Texas’ elections the obvious major attention went to the gubernatorial race where incumbent Governor Greg Abbott prevailed against two opponents who attacked him from the right. In the end, Abbott avoided a runoff and outright won with about 2/3 of the Republican primary vote, no small feat.
Ballotpedia was a great resource for many Texans and even those out of state, looking to learn about Abbott’s key votes and positions on policy items. They could also research his opponents’ positions and make a quick informed decision without having to do research at multiple different sites. Therefore, aggregate sites like this will be increasing in popularity as the changing world and electorate demand trusted synthesis.
“We’re always trying to expand. Our scope right now goes to the top 100 largest cities. Just this year, we’re trying to increase to the top 200. And that includes school districts that are within those cities, as well as county-wide races. And one project I really love is is actually our recall project, because since there are few enough recalls, we try to cover recalls comprehensively. We are covering recalls for cities that have a few hundred or a few thousand residents.”
Interestingly, every local race is covered in California, the largest state, due to high readership and usage.
Altic continued, saying that the information gap is bigger with smaller races. Started by current President and CEO, Leslie Graves in 2007, Ballotpedia’s original goal was to cover the gap in information around statewide races. This became increasingly important during the huge flip in 2010 when Republicans took over many state legislature seats held by Democrats.
Again, last year, special off year obscure elections, such as in West Texas, were key in providing an insight on the changing electorate and tea leaves into the national mood, further proven by strong Republican performance in Virginia and New Jersey in November 2021.
Eventually, Ballotpedia covered federal races more comprehensively since its inception but it was their original efforts in state races that differentiated them initially.
Altic, a specialist in the ballot measures space, enjoys the issue focus but reminds us that there are many states with no citizens’ ballot measure process. But for those that do, he expects fireworks on key issues. These issues include sports betting and gambling where federal legislation have forced states to address the laws around it, and abortion, which will be on the ballot in several states especially conservative ones, which seek to add language to the state constitution, concerning funding. With at least two or three states doing the same thing, it becomes a “trend” for them to alert their attention to.
Other trending issues include taxes, which happens every year.
“Interesting ones to look for are income taxes, specifically on high income levels, sometimes called millionaires taxes. Although the one in Arizona is not a million dollars, it’s less than that.”
Tax issues around education and some income tax policies from conservative states trying to drop the number of tax brackets to make things flatter are some other interesting state specific developments.
“The Arizona Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill to flatten the rate, it reduced it to from, four or five brackets down to two brackets. And then, if revenue is high enough, it actually makes it a flat tax in Arizona. Advocates, and some teacher unions didn’t like that. So they collected signatures to challenge that bill. It’s a process called a veto referendum or a people’s veto. So they collect the signatures to let voters decide to repeal a law the legislature just passed. Massachusetts went the other direction. It has a millionaire’s tax for education on the ballot this year.”
Interestingly there are ballot measures about ballot measures. Altic says,
“One thing to watch out for is supermajority requirements in South Dakota, Arkansas, North Dakota, and possibly other states, including Florida, to increase the vote threshold, you would need to pass a future ballot measure. These include either a constitutional amendment or in South Dakota, any sort of tax increase or or measure that appropriates a certain amount of money would require a 60% threshold instead of a simple majority of 50. Most of these provisions are in state constitutions. So to change them, the legislature has to ask voters to approve the change.”
Three full time writers ensure the site gives the yes side and no side some information, with key quotes from proponents.
“We have a pretty set recipe for these ballot measures. It’s important for us is to give a neutral summary of just what the measure would do, what’s the effect of a yes vote and the effect of a no vote. We also want to get readers familiar with what they’re going to see on the ballot. So we have a section devoted to the text of the measure, including the ballot language, but also the full legal text. So if a reader doesn’t want to trust our analysis, or doesn’t want to trust supporters and opponents and really want to just look at the legal texts, the nitty gritty of the legal texts, we always include that on our pages. Any sort of analyses or white papers that come out by the support or opposition side will be listed in those sections. We really try to highlight the strongest arguments on both sides, the most recognizable and most important endorsements on both sides.”
But they always say, follow the money. The best part is Ballotpedia organizes the money trails. Altic says,
“One of my favorite sections is our campaign finance information, we curate all of that ourselves, we go to the straight to the the state reporting websites and download that data. Then try and present it in a very easy to digest fashion with support and opposition totals, and then top donors who are actually giving the most money to back these or to oppose them.”
Political context is key. They have a good background section too, such as measures that are trying to repeal a policy that’s been in place for 30 years. Or maybe it is a completely new idea. Other questions answered are how many other states have the same policy? And have they worked in other states? It is a great tool for the reader.
Ballotpedia is looking to up their game with their new survey which allows candidates to submit their own content for further accuracy. https://ballotpedia.org/Survey
You can view the full interview with Ballotpedia here.