Book of the States 2009

Voters approved 58 percent of the 174 ballot propositions considered in 37 states in 2008. The number of measures as well as the approval rate was down modestly from recent years. No ideological trend appeared —both liberal and conservative measures were approved. The highest profile issue was a ban on gay marriage in California. Nationwide, voters approved more than $13 billion in state bonds despite the ongoing financial crisis.

Election reform has been a consistent issue for states and Congress since the 2000 general election. After Congress created the Help America Vote Act of 2002, state legislators and Congress have offered thousands of pieces of legislation to cure the perceived problems in elections.

Thirty nine states elect some or all of their judges. In 2008, the trend continued toward costly and negative campaigns dominated by the efforts of interest groups rather than the candidates themselves. Local elections in three states gave comfort to proponents of non-contestable races but prospects for state level changes remain unclear.

Budget crises associated with the general economic downturn overshadowed other issues confronting the state courts. Judicial branches developed objective measures of their efficiency, accessibility, and fairness to demonstrate their accountability for how public funds are spent. Courts also helped lead interbranch efforts to confront problems like mortgage foreclosures and child abuse and neglect.

State courts are improving public service by adopting the CourTools Access and Fairness survey to gather the views of court users. Key issues of access to court services and fairness in court proceedings are highlighted.