The Daily Brew: COVID-related ballot access changes in 2021

Welcome to the Monday, March 15, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Candidate ballot access changes in 2021
  2. 5 Idaho school board members retain seats in March 9 recalls
  3. DSA-backed candidates sweep Nevada Democratic Party leadership elections

Candidate ballot access changes in 2021

At least 20 states made changes to candidate ballot access procedures in 2020. Now that we’re in 2021, let’s take a look at changes that will affect this year’s elections.

New Jersey and Virginia—the two states holding regular state-level elections this year—have both made temporary changes to their candidate ballot access procedures due to COVID-19. Ballot access procedures dictate what a candidate has to do to appear on an election ballot. 

  • Changes in New Jersey allow campaigns to collect and submit signatures electronically. 
  • Changes in Virginia decreased the signatures required from statewide candidates to qualify for the ballot.

New Jersey is holding elections for governor, lieutenant governor, all 40 state Senate seats, and all 80 state Assembly seats, in addition to local elections. Virginia is holding elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all 100 state House seats, in addition to local and special state legislative elections. 

Both states hold their statewide primaries on June 8. The filing deadline for statewide and state legislative primary candidates is March 25 in Virginia and April 5 in New Jersey. Candidates must submit signature petitions and pay fees, if applicable, by those dates.

The Virginia Republican Party will hold conventions for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general on May 8.

Here are the details of the changes in the two states.

  • New Jersey: In January, Governor Phil Murphy (D) issued an executive order allowing for “any candidate, delegate, recall, initiative, referendum, or other petition required to be filed prior to an election to be submitted by hand delivery and electronically.” The order allows campaigns to collect as well as submit petition signatures electronically.
  • In 2020, Murphy allowed primary and general election candidates to collect and submit signatures electronically. He also postponed the petition deadline for unaffiliated candidates for non-presidential elections to July 7, 2020, from June 2, 2020 (the original primary date, which was moved to July 7).
  • In 2020, at least 11 states allowed candidates or campaigns to collect and/or submit signatures electronically.
  • Virginia: In January, the Virginia Department of Elections settled a lawsuit over ballot access requirements for statewide candidates in 2021. As a result, the signature requirement for statewide candidate petitions decreased from 10,000 to 2,000, with at least 50 signatures from each U.S. House District (down from 400). The settlement also allows petition signers to submit their signatures electronically.
  • In 2020, Federal Judge John A. Gibney reduced petition signature requirements for unaffiliated and minor-party general election candidates for federal office in Virginia as follows: from 5,000 to 2,500 signatures for presidential candidates; from 10,000 to 3,500 signatures for U.S. Senate candidates; and from 1,000 to 350 signatures for U.S. House candidates. 
  • In 2020, at least 10 states reduced petition signature requirements for some candidates.

The 20 states that changed ballot access procedures in 2020 included eight Democratic trifectas (meaning Democrats controlled the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature), five Republican trifectas, and seven states with divided government control.

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5 Idaho school board members retain seats in March 9 recalls

From time to time, we let you know about local recall elections. Here’s a look at some recent ones in Idaho.

Three Idaho school districts—Pocatello-Chubbuck, Idaho Falls, and Nampa—held recall elections on March 9. A majority of voters in all three school districts voted against recalling a total of five board members. Thus, the board members retain their positions.

In each case, recall supporters initiated the efforts in response to board member decisions related to COVID-19.

Three of five school board members—Jackie Cranor (Zone 1), Janie Gebhardt (Zone 2), and Dave Mattson (Zone 5)—were on the ballot in Pocatello-Chubbuck School District No. 25. The recall effort began in September 2020 after the board unanimously voted to continue using a hybrid teaching model for middle school and high school students for the remainder of the school year’s first trimester. 

  • Recall supporters said the board was not fully representing the electorate on the issue of hybrid learning as well as other issues. 
  • The school district said in a statement that the board weighs a number of factors when making decisions and that majority opinion does not always rule.

In Idaho Falls School District 91, Zone 4 representative Elizabeth Cogliati was on the ballot. The recall effort began after the board of trustees voted 3-2 in September 2020 to move the district’s high schools to a mix of in-person and online instruction. Cogliati voted in favor of the change. Recall efforts against the two other board members who supported the change did not make the March 9 ballot. 

  • Recall supporters said the district’s online classes were low quality and putting students at a disadvantage.
  • Superintendent George Boland said the goal of the change was to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and related quarantines and absences at the high schools. 

In the Nampa School District, Zone 2 representative Mike Kipp was on the ballot. The recall effort started after Kipp cast the sole dissenting vote against allowing sports to resume during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Recall supporters said that they were not being represented on the board and that their voices had not been heard at board meetings on multiple occasions. 
  • Kipp said, “I have done my best to listen well to all input from teachers, students, patrons, our superintendent, other district leaders and all relevant experts. I then seek to utilize that information in determining my vote.”

In order for the recall efforts to have been successful, two things would have had to happen: 1) a majority of voters would have had to vote in favor of the recall, and 2) the total number of votes cast in favor of recall would have had to be equal or greater than the number of votes that first put the board member in office.

The above are among 12 school board recall efforts, targeting 28 officials, that Ballotpedia is covering so far in 2021. We tracked 26 school board recall efforts against 55 board members in 2020. Four recall elections were held. The school board recall success rate was 9.1%. The 2019 recall success rate was 6.4%.

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DSA-backed candidates sweep Nevada Democratic Party leadership elections

The two major parties have affiliates in all 50 states. State parties elect leadership, and a recent leadership election in Nevada got some attention for the factional conflict it presented.

On March 6, the Democratic Party of Nevada held elections for its five leadership positions. Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed candidates won all five posts: Judith Whitmer as chairwoman, Jacob Allen as first vice chairman, Zaffar Iqbal as second vice chairman, Ahmad Adé as secretary, and Howard Beckerman as treasurer. 

Shortly thereafter, the party’s executive director, Alana Mounce, informed Whitmer that she and the remaining staff and consultants were resigning.

The Washington Post‘s Matt Viser wrote, “At a minimum, the discord is expected to lead longtime allies of Harry M. Reid, the former Senate majority leader and the state’s most important political power broker, to build a political organization outside the state party structure. And it is fueling excitement among liberals nationwide who are pressing to increase the federal minimum wage, expand health coverage and combat climate change.” 

Democrats control most federal and statewide offices in Nevada. 

  • Both of Nevada’s U.S. senators and three of four U.S. representatives are Democrats. 
  • Democrats have a state government trifecta. 
  • The state has divided triplex control—the governor and attorney general are Democrats and the secretary of state is Republican. 
  • Democratic candidates have won each presidential election in the state since 2008.

Read on