Election Night 2023 Library Wrap-Up
EveryLibrary tracked over 60 local library elections, annual budget votes, and statewide ballot measures that impacted libraries on the Tuesday, November 7, 2023 ballots across nine states. Voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of libraries.
As of Wednesday morning, we are happy to report that of the 40 ballot measures with published results as of this writing, 34 levy renewals or increases passed, including two “must-pass” measures in Michigan and Ohio. Additionally, at least three annual budgets for New York libraries passed, and one measure to eliminate a library board in Iowa failed. Colorado’s statewide tax rollback failed. Two libraries unfortunately lost their levies. Passing levy renewals by these kinds of decisive margins continues a positive trend we’ve seen over the last few election cycles.
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Our singular focus at EveryLibrary this season was to ensure we did not lose any libraries to censorship-driven attacks on Election Day. EveryLibrary worked on several campaigns of national significance this election cycle, including support for the lawsuit filed by the Vote No committee in Columbia County, WA, to stay that election. We are proud to say that in all of the campaigns we supported, the library prevailed.
We are happy to report that the Patmos Library in Michigan has passed its three-year levy renewal, ensuring it will remain open. In 2022, the library was subjected to virulent attacks from frustrated local book banners who defeated two attempts to renew the library’s basic operating levy. In response to this defunding campaign, hundreds of people, including champions like the author Nora Roberts, stepped up to donate nearly $250,000 to an emergency fund administered by the EveryLibrary Institute, the tax-exempt nonprofit arm of EveryLibrary. With those stabilizing donations in place and a split library board seated, library leaders did the difficult work of rebuilding trust and forming a new funding-focused coalition. Passing this short-term levy renewal with a 62% yes vote is a testimony that the censor’s message did not sway the broader community.
We have been working for the last 18 months to support the Vote No to Save Pella Library committee in anticipation of yesterday’s election. In June 2022, a group of anti-access book banners forced the library onto the ballot with a petition that, if it had passed, would have eliminated the independent library Board of Trustees and placed the library under the political control of the City Council. We were invested in helping the community come together to build a coalition for the library and against this bad proposal. The Vote No Committee fielded a strong campaign that had tremendous integrity in its messaging about Pella and the people the library serves. Their campaign outreach included a significant amount of door-to-door, social media, and targeted voter engagement. In the end, it was a tight election, but the petition was defeated, with 51% voting no. The library board will remain apolitical and independent.
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Highlights from Across the Country
- The Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library passed a 10-year levy renewal and increase, with 56% voting yes.
- The Ida Rupp Memorial Library passed its core operational levy renewal in the face of local opposition, with 63% voting yes.
- In Ashland, OH, a local opposition campaign sent out direct mail against the library levy. Despite this opposition, fully 65% of voters endorsed the renewal.
- Voters across Colorado rejected Prop HH, an initiative that would have rolled back property taxes and enacted TABOR provisions, which would have harmed library budgets.
- In Idaho, the Hansen Community Library passed its first budget increase since 1986 with a 136 to 52 vote.
- Kent District Library in Michigan voluntarily rolled back its levy, with 77% of voters approving this good management choice.
- Phoenix, AZ, and Corvallis, OR, approved quality-of-life bond packages to build and support libraries alongside other departments.
- Pella, IA, defeated a measure to eliminate the library board proposed by a local group of book banners.
- The Patmos Library in Michigan passed a three-year stop-gap levy to continue operations after two defeats last year.
The table with all tracked library elections and annual (NY) budgets is online for your review. Our live #librarywatchparty tweets are archived as well.
Across the country, library renewals continue to pass at a very high rate. Troublingly, however, few libraries were on the ballot this year asking for new funding or advancing new projects. This continues a trend we have seen develop since 2017. Libraries are taxpayer-funded institutions. In fact, over 90% of funding for libraries comes from local taxpayers. In those states where levies, referenda, bonds, and annual budgets go before the voters, libraries need to plan to ask them for the funding we need to properly serve our communities. Preliminary data relating to library and school board candidates who oppose censorship show an overwhelming success rate at the local level. As we look ahead to 2024, library leaders should understand that with the right kind of work and support, even communities facing strident book bans and censorship fights can succeed on Election Day when we engage with voters.
All of EveryLibrary’s support and assistance to libraries on the ballot is provided pro bono and for free to the library and the local committee. This is only possible because of our donors. If you believe like we do that this type of solidarity and support is necessary and important to the future of libraries, please consider donating today.
Look ahead to full coverage of the entire 2023 election year in January as EveryLibrary continues our 10-year reporting and analysis partnership with Library Journal.