Elections Update

In the article below, originally posted pre-Election Day, we named our Top Picks for the best sites to visit for information pertaining to state and local ballot issues. We want to remind MuniNet visitors that these same sites have now shifted their focus to reporting results. When visiting these sites, particularly in the days that immediately follow the election, please note that high traffic volume could affect these sites.

(original post date: October 30, 2008)

The countdown to Election Day is leading up to one of the most heated presidential races in recent history.

But residents in 33 states will also be casting their votes on a variety of state and local ballot measures. Colorado voters will weigh in on 14 ballot measures, the highest of any state in this election, followed by California and Oregon, which include 12 ballot propositions, respectively, in the upcoming election.

Overshadowed in the media by national election headlines, state and local initiatives are often leave voters uninterested and/or uninformed.

Voters can often find information pertaining to local races and referendum at their respective county web site, generally in the Board of Elections section. And most states’ elections division or secretary of state office web sites at least provide a list of ballot propositions, but some do a better job than others.

Massachusetts, for example, gets our thumbs-up. Massachusetts residents will be asked to vote on three upcoming statewide ballot initiatives. Each of the three is summarized on its Elections Division web site, which provides a quick explanation of what a “yes” versus a “no” vote would mean.

There are a handful of other excellent resources where voters can turn to gain the information they need to make an education decision when it comes to voting for or against a state or local ballot measure.

The following sites are our Top Picks for the best online resources pertaining to state and local ballots measures:

1. The National Conference of State Legislatures is a bipartisan organization that serves legislators and staffs of 50 states, commonwealths and territories. One of the country’s oldest and most respected sources for election information, NCSL derives its information first-hand from election officials in the states, according to Jennie Bowser, Senior Elections Analyst, who says that she begins compiling data the year before the election. “As deadlines for submitting petitions pass,” she says,” I keep track of which petitions are turned in and which are abandoned.” The database is continually updated to reflect whether an initiative has qualified for the ballot or has been removed.

Its Ballot Measures Database Ballot Measures Database is easily searchable by state, topic area and type of measure.

NCSL gets our vote as the preeminent source for unbiased, accurate, and up-to-date election information.

2. Ballotpedia, a service of Wikipedia, is another top-notch resource for state ballot information. Self-defined as a “free, collaborative online encyclopedia,” Ballotpedia is a wiki – a terms that means that visitors can add or modify content. To maintain the integrity of the site and to minimize spam or other misuse, the site requires visitors to register for a user account and then sign in before they are allowed to make any additions or changes to the site.

Kathleen Nelson, Executive Editor of Ballotpedia, explains that its staff editors put together the basic framework and continue to add content as needed, with volunteer editors contributing as well. While staff attempts to monitor contributions, especially from new users, she acknowledges the fact that some contributions may not be up to the standards they hope for. That’s part of the package that users need to accept when using a wiki. “But we do hope that the truth wins out in the end,” she says.

A “wiki” also refers to a collection of web pages tied together by links … for example, a news entry on Ballotpedia’s home page says that “voters in four states will vote directly on marriage-related issues.” Users can click on the phrase marriage-related issues to access an article devoted to that topic, including this year’s ballot measures related to marriage, as well as measures from prior elections.

Click on any state’s hub page to view updated ballot news, links to government officials, ballot measures, campaign finance, and a variety of legislative information. Ballotpedia is the only national resource we found that includes links to local ballot issues (accessible through a link on the state’s hub page.)

Ballotpedia does have one downside, though (not really!): there is so much information here, it can draw you in and keep you busy for hours!

Note: Both of these web sites will provide election results throughout the night on November 4 and on the days that follow.

Honorable Mentions:

3. Stateline.org – Elections provides ongoing news coverage related to the upcoming election, including governor and legislative races, and state ballot measures

4. Ballotwatch Election Preview, a publication of the Initiative & Referendum Institute of the University of Southern California