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Low Literacy Levels Among U.S. Adults and Difficult Ballot Propositions.

High-level literacy skills are required for full participation in the democratic process through voting. Consequently, adults with low-level literacy skills are at a disadvantage. This work investigated the disparity between the readability of U.S. ballot propositions for year 2022 state elections and grade level reading estimates (≤eighth grade) for adults. Educational attainment was also examined. Propositions ( n = 140) from 38 states were included. Mean readability was 18 (range 7.0-64.0). Only four measures (3%) fell within range of national estimates for adult reading ability. Thirty-nine percent of adults completed high school or less, yet 74% of ballots were written well above a high school reading level. There is a discrepancy between the literacy skills of the average voter and the readability of most propositions. The findings of this study have important implications for individuals with learning disabilities. Policy changes and educational support efforts should be initiated.

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