The Daily Brew: Voters approved 13 statewide election policy changes in 2020

Welcome to the Thursday, Feb. 4, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Voters in 12 states approved election policy ballot measures in 2020
  2. Biden has signed 28 executive orders in first two weeks in office
  3. Tracking federal judicial nominations

Update: An astute reader emailed us about an elected official we missed in Wednesday’s Brew about politicians who played in the Super Bowl. Reggie Williams was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals and played in the 1982 and 1989 Super Bowls. He was appointed to the Cincinnati City Council in 1988 and elected to a full term on the council in 1989—his final year in the NFL. As a longtime Bengals fan, I’m a little mad at myself that we omitted him, but thanks so much to that reader for pointing that out!

Voters approved 13 election policy ballot measures in 2020

In 2020, 39 states made changes to their election administration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to those changes, voters in 12 states approved 13 ballot measures related to election policy. Additionally, five measures were defeated. The topics included changes to campaign finance, election dates, election systems, redistricting, suffrage, and term limits. 

The number of last year’s approved election policy measures was lower than it was in 2018 and tied with 2016. In 2018, voters in 16 states approved 18 measures related to election policy and defeated three. In 2016, voters in seven states approved 13 measures related to election policy and defeated five.

The 13 statewide measures in 2020 are broken down as follows:

  • Campaign finance: One measure in one state (Oregon)
  • Election dates: One measure in one state (New Mexico)
  • Election systems: Three measures in three states (Alaska, Colorado, and Mississippi)
  • Redistricting: Three measures in three states (Missouri, New Jersey, and Virginia)
  • Suffrage: Four measures four states (Alabama, California, Colorado, and Florida)
  • Term limits: One measure in one state (Arkansas)

Voters in eleven local jurisdictions also approved 17 ballot measures related to election policy in the top 100 largest cities by population. The ballot measures spanned seven states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Ballotpedia also tracked a selection of notable election-related measures outside of the top 100 largest cities. All five related to ranked-choice voting measures in cities in California, Colorado, and Minnesota. Voters approved all five.

>Read on

Biden has signed 28 executive orders in first two weeks in office

Yesterday marked two weeks since President Joe Biden (D) was inaugurated on Jan. 20. Since then, he has signed 28 executive orders, 11 presidential memoranda, and five proclamations.

Biden’s 28 executive orders are more than his three predecessors combined over the same period of time. Here’s a quick break-down of the different kinds of executive actions.

  • Executive orders are directives written by the president to officials within the executive branch requiring them to take or stop some action related to policy or management. They are numbered, published in the Federal Register, and cite the authority by which the president is making the order.
  • Presidential memoranda also include instructions directed at executive officials, but they are neither numbered nor have the same publication requirements. The Office of Management and Budget is also not required to issue a budgetary impact statement on the subject of the memoranda.
    • In his 2014 book, By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action, Phillip J. Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University, wrote, “As a practical matter, the memorandum is now being used as the equivalent of an executive order, but without meeting the legal requirements for an executive order.”
  • Proclamations are a type of executive directive that typically relate to private individuals or ceremonial events, such as holidays and commemorations.

>Read on 

Tracking federal judicial nominations

If you are a regular Brew reader, you know that we pay close attention to judicial nominations. We have been tracking data around that since Ballotpedia’s founding. Through his first few weeks in office, President Biden has not announced any judicial nominations. 

During the first two weeks of former President Donald Trump’s (R) term, he had made one nomination: Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. After Gorsuch, Trump’s next nomination was on March 9, 2017. Former President Barack Obama’s (D) first nomination was on April 2, 2009.

As of Feb. 1, there were 57 vacancies out of 870 Article III judicial positions (6.6%). 

Biden’s lack of nominees could change soon. The Washington Post reported that Biden’s advisers have prepared a list of judicial nominees to fill the current vacancies. The Biden administration does not plan to review and rate candidates in consultation with the American Bar Association until after their formal nomination, unlike the former process of the Obama administration.

>Read on