The Daily Brew: Twenty-seven territories

Today’s Brew summarizes the type and history of U.S. territorial acquisitions + previews the elections on August 27  
 The Daily Brew

Welcome to the Tuesday, August 27, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. The United States has acquired 27 territories since 1803
  2. Mississippi’s Republican gubernatorial runoff headlines elections in six states
  3. Looking back at 2018’s State Legislative Competitiveness Report

The United States has acquired 27 territories since 1803

Between 1789 and 2010, the U.S. grew from a nation covering 864,746 square miles to 3,531,905. How did it happen? The country acquired territory, usually through three methods: 

  • Cession refers to a transfer of land that is formally agreed upon by the acquiring and ceding state, usually by treaty.
  • Purchase is a type of cession in which the acquiring nation agrees to financially compensate the ceding country for a territorial transfer.
  • Occupation refers to the appropriation of an area that lacks supreme control by another sovereign.

Treaties regarding the exchange of territory with sovereign nations are typically initiated by the president and subject to the advice and consent of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Once territories are acquired, Article IV, Section 3, of the Constitution grants Congress the authority to manage them. 

Five facts about territorial acquisition.  

  • The country’s first territorial acquisition was also the largest—the Louisiana Purchase for $10 million in 1803 nearly doubled the landmass of the original 13 states. 
  • The United States’ most recent territorial acquisition—the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall Islands—was in 1947.
  • The cheapest purchase acquisition was of Alaska in 1867 for $12 per square mile. 
  • The most expensive purchase acquisition was of the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917 for $183,824 per square mile.
  • The territories gained by the U.S. through occupation were primarily small islands in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The Guano Islands Act of 1856—designed to assist American farmers by making guano (dried sea bird excrement) easier to mine for use as fertilizer—authorized such occupations.

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Mississippi’s Republican gubernatorial runoff headlines elections in six states 

Today is Election Day and we’re tracking contests in six states—Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, and Mississippi. Here’s a summary of four jurisdictions of note:


Mississippi voters will choose a Republican gubernatorial nominee in a primary runoff election between  Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves—who won 49% of the vote in the August 6 primary—and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr.—who received 33%. The winner of the runoff will face the Democratic nominee—Attorney General Jim Hood—in the November 5 general election.

There are also Republican primary runoffs to determine the party’s nominee for state attorney general and in one of three districts on the transportation commission.  Democrats have a runoff in one of three districts of the state public service commission. There are also 19 state legislative primaries—12 Republican and 7 Democrat.

Mississippi has open primaries, which means that the runoffs are open to any registered voter who did not cast a ballot in the Aug. 6 primaries. Those who voted in either primary may only vote in that same party’s runoff. 


Voters in Phoenix will decide two citizen initiatives that would amend the city’s charter in a special ballot initiative election. 

  • Proposition 105 would end construction of light rail extensions, prohibit funding other light rail development, and redirect funds to other transportation infrastructure improvements in Phoenix. 
  • Proposition 106 would, among other things, require annual assessments of the city’s pension debt, limit budget growth if pensions are not 90% funded, and earmark revenue over the budget limit to paying down pension debt.

St. Petersburg, Florida

The city of St. Petersburg, is holding nonpartisan primaries for three of eight seats on its city council. A fourth council seat is also up for election this year but there is no primary because only two candidates are running. Two of the three primaries feature incumbents running for re-election. The third is an open-seat race because the incumbent was term-limited. The top two finishers in each primary will advance to the general election November 5. 

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona, is holding partisan primaries for mayor and three of seven seats on the city council. Incumbent Mayor Jonathan Rothschild (D) is not seeking a third term. Three Democrats are vying for the mayoral nomination. The winner faces independent candidate Edward Ackerley in the general election November 5. No Republican candidate filed to run.

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Looking back at 2018’s State Legislative Competitiveness Report

We’re excited to release our annual state legislative competitiveness study next month. I took a look through last year’s version to brush up on the material. Ballotpedia’s 8th Annual State Legislative Competitiveness Report analyzed all 6,073 state legislative elections that took place in November 2018. 

That was a big job. But we’re not sitting back on our laurels for this November’s contests.

Our 2019 report will be published next month, and in it, we will look at the 538 state legislative elections taking place this year in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia.

Our Annual State Legislative Competitiveness Report focuses on three factors affecting competitiveness:

  • Incumbents not seeking re-election – When an incumbent doesn’t seek re-election, a newcomer is guaranteed to win. In 2018, 1,181 state legislative incumbents—19.4%—did not run for re-election. This figure includes legislators from the 15 states with term limits.
  • Competitiveness in primary elections – The average margin of victory in 2018’s state legislative elections was 25.8% as 1,078 seats—17.8%—were decided by a margin of 10% or less. In many districts, a higher number of primary candidates reflects greater competitiveness. In 2018, there were 4,000 more primary candidates than in 2016 and 2014.
  • Races without major party composition – When a race has only one candidate from a major political party (be it Democrat or Republican), that candidate is most likely going to win. In 2018, 2,017 state legislative elections—33.2%—had only one major party candidate.

We’ve been preparing this report annually since 2010. We’ve got lots of historical data, including the effect of term limits. We also have a section on legislative retirements in districts that voted for a state legislator of one party and a 2016 presidential nominee of another. This is really fascinating data highlighting lots of interesting trends. Click the link below to go through last year’s report while you wait for 2019’s edition to be released.

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