The NCSL Blog


By Claudia Kania

Numbers alone cannot tell stories, but the relationship between numbers can.

This summer, I often heard that both the number of elections and redistricting ballot measures were higher this year compared to years past, and I wondered if the two increased together or if 2020 was unique. With my background in computer science and data analysis, I decided to put this to the test.

First, I looked at the number of election-related ballot measures and redistricting-related ballot measures over 30 and plotted them on a chart to see if any trends emerged.

In this data visualization, both types of measures follow a similar pattern. For example, elections ballot measures peaked in 2018 at 24 measures, as did the redistricting ballot measures at six. Similarly, decreases in redistricting ballot measures were accompanied by decreases in elections ballot measures.

Data visualization of ballot issues

Although a spreadsheet can easily tell us there are more elections ballot measures than redistricting ones, visualizations like this put these numbers into context. Identifying the apparent link between election and redistricting ballot measures would have been much more difficult without the use of a graphic representation.

Of course, we must also look at individual data points to avoid overgeneralizations. For example, as the number of elections ballot measures increased from 1990 to 1995, the number of redistricting ballot measures decreased. Although not as statistically significant as the general trendline, this moment nonetheless paints a more nuanced picture of the relationship between elections and redistricting ballot measures.

A visualization can tell a more comprehensive story, but not necessarily a complete one. Although both types of measures appear to increase together, a further look into NCSL’s ballot measure database shows that in 2020, no states had ballot measures pertaining to both redistricting and elections simultaneously, which can tell us that although there is a widespread interest into both redistricting and elections over the past thirty years, that may not be the case within individual states.

Although this look at ballot measures only investigates a small piece of elections and redistricting action—with most being done by legislators—it shows how the two subjects are often linked, not just in our program’s name at NCSL, but in lawmakers’ and voters’ minds. After all, elections determine who does redistricting and redistricting determines who can run for office and where. And data can help us identify and communicate a complex yet discernible relationship between elections and redistricting.

Be sure to check out our blog for more information on current elections ballot measures and redistricting measures.

Claudia Kania was a summer intern in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program and is a junior at Stanford University majoring in political science.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.