Our weekly summary of state & local news highlights redistricting updates in Indiana and Iowa and a school board recall advancing to trial. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the State & Local Tap.
Ballot Measures Update
Thirty-nine statewide measures have been certified for the 2021 ballot in nine states so far.
- Statewide measures for 2021 are finalized. No new measures are expected to be added to the ballot.
- 24 measures are on the Nov. 2 ballot.
- 4 measures are on the Nov. 13 ballot.
- 4 measures were on the ballot on May 18 in Pennsylvania. They were approved.
- 7 bond measures were on the ballot on March 2 in Rhode Island. They were approved.
Sixty statewide measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 29 states so far.
- No new measures were certified for the 2022 ballot last week.
States in session
Eight state legislatures—Arkansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—are in regular session.
Local Ballot Measures: The Week in Review
In 2021, Ballotpedia is providing comprehensive coverage of elections in America’s 100 largest cities by population and all state capitals. This encompasses every office on the ballot in these cities, including their municipal elections, trial court elections, school board elections, and local ballot measures. Ballotpedia also covers all local recall elections, as well as all local ballot measures in California and a selection of notable local ballot measures about elections and police-related policies. Recent and upcoming local ballot measure elections are listed below:
- Oct. 5 – Alaska: Voters in Juneau decided a 3% sales tax renewal measure. The Juneau Office of the City Clerk stated that unofficial election results would be available on Oct. 8 or Oct. 11.
- Oct. 12 – Nebraska: Voters in the Ralston Public Schools District will decide an $83.75 million bond issue.
Sixty-four state legislative special elections have been scheduled in 21 states so far this year. Forty-two specials have taken place already. Heading into those races, Democrats had previously controlled 19 of the seats, and Republicans previously controlled 23. One seat flipped from Democratic control to Republican control, and one seat flipped from Republican control to Democratic control.
- In special elections between 2011 and 2020, one party (either Republicans or Democrats) saw an average net gain of four seats nationally each year.
- An average of 57 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past six even years (2010: 30, 2012: 46, 2014: 40, 2016: 65, 2018: 99, 2020: 59).
- An average of 88 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past five odd years (2011: 94, 2013: 84, 2015: 89, 2017: 98, 2019: 77).
Upcoming special elections include:
Two challengers defeat incumbents in Birmingham general runoff election
Birmingham, Ala., held a general runoff election on Oct. 5. The runoff was necessary after no candidate earned a majority of the vote in several races during the general election on Aug. 24.
Candidates competed for two seats on the nine-seat city council. Challengers defeated incumbents in both districts. J.T. Moore won the District 4 seat against incumbent William Parker, earning 58.4% of the vote to Parker’s 41.6%. In District 9, LaTonya Tate received 51.6% of the vote to defeat incumbent John Hilliard, who received 48.4%.
Candidates also competed for two seats on the nine-seat Birmingham Board of Education. In District 9, Jason Meadows earned 72.1% of the vote, defeating Le’Darius Hilliard with 27.9%. The District 1 race remained too close to call as of Oct. 8, with only a few votes separating incumbent Douglas Ragland from challenger Sherman Collins Jr.
Birmingham is the largest city in Alabama by population and the 99th-largest city in the U.S.
Michigan state Rep. Andrea Schroeder (R) dies
Michigan state Rep. Andrea Schroeder (R) died from stomach cancer on Oct. 1. Schroeder was first elected to represent House District 43 in 2018. She most recently won re-election in 2020, defeating Nicole Breadon (D) 59.7% to 40.3%.
When a vacancy occurs in the Michigan State Legislature, the governor must call for a special election to fill the vacancy, which should be held when the next general election is scheduled.
Michigan is one of 25 states to fill state legislative vacancies through special elections.
This is the 20th vacancy in 2021 caused by the death of a serving legislator. So far this year, there have been 109 vacancies in 40 state legislatures. Sixty-seven (67) of those vacancies have been filled.
Special primary election held in Rhode Island Senate district
A special primary election was held on Oct. 5 for District 3 of the Rhode Island State Senate. According to unofficial results, former Providence City Council member Sam Zurier won the Democratic primary with 1,282 votes (37%). Geena Pham came in second with 982 votes (24%). Bret Jacob received 908 votes (22%), Hilary Levey Friedman received 613 votes (15%), and Ray Rickman received 269 votes (7%).
Zurier will now face Alex Cannon (R) in the Nov. 2 special election. The Republican primary was canceled after Cannon was the only candidate to file.
The winner of the general election will serve until January 2023. The seat became vacant after the resignation of Gayle Goldin (D) on Aug. 17. Goldin resigned to accept a position in President Joe Biden’s (D) administration as a senior adviser for the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. Prior to her resignation, Goldin had served in the state Senate since 2013.
Democrats have a 32-5 majority in the Rhode Island Senate with one vacancy. Rhode Island has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.
As of October, 64 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Rhode Island held seven state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.
Loudoun County Circuit Court rules school board recall may advance to trial
An effort to recall Beth Barts from her position as the Leesburg District representative on the Loudoun County Public Schools board in Virginia moved forward at a pre-trial hearing on Oct. 5. At the hearing, a Loudoun County Circuit Court judge ruled that the recall effort could advance to a full trial, denying Barts’ motion to dismiss the petition against her since it was not signed by an attorney.
The judge also granted the recall petitioners’ request to appoint a special prosecutor to take the place of Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj. Recall supporters said Biberaj was a friend of Barts’. The case will go to trial after the special prosecutor is named.
In Virginia, recall efforts are determined in circuit court rather than at the ballot box. Virginia also requires certain reasons to be met for a recall to move forward, including neglect of duty, misuse of office, incompetence, or conviction of misdemeanors related to drugs or hate crimes. Recall supporters must collect signatures equal in number to 10% of the votes cast in the last election for that office. The recall effort against Barts needed 1,176 signatures. Recall supporters announced they collected 1,860. They submitted the petition signatures on Aug. 25.
Recall supporters are also circulating petitions against another four members of the nine-member school board. They said they launched the effort due to school board members’ involvement in a private Facebook group. They said the board members’ involvement in the group was a violation of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act as well as the school board’s Code of Conduct because the members discussed public matters in a private setting. Recall supporters also alleged that the district was using Critical Race Theory in its employee training and student curriculum, which they opposed.
Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler said the district uses a Culturally Responsive Framework that “speaks to providing a welcoming, affirming environment and developing cultural competence through culturally responsive instruction, deeper learning, equitable classroom practices and social-emotional needs for a focus on the whole child.” He said the district did not use Critical Race Theory in its staff training or student curriculum.
Barts was first elected to a four-year term on the board on Nov. 5, 2019. She received 54.8% of the vote and defeated one other candidate. Though school board elections are nonpartisan, Barts is supported by the Loudoun County Democratic Committee.
Ballotpedia has tracked 75 school board recall efforts against 195 board members so far in 2021—the highest number of school board recall efforts we have ever tracked in one year. The next-highest year was in 2010 with 38 recall efforts against 91 school board members.
Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) issues coronavirus executive orders, Gov. Brad Little (R) repeals them
On Oct. 6, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) issued an executive order banning state agencies from implementing coronavirus testing and proof of vaccination requirements. McGeachin issued the order while Gov. Brad Little (R) was out of the state.
In a tweet, McGeachin said: “Today, as Acting Governor, I fixed Gov. Little’s Executive Order on ‘vaccine passports’ to make sure that K-12 schools and universities cannot require vaccinations OR require mandatory testing. I will continue to fight for your individual Liberty!”
On the same day, Little issued an executive order repealing McGeachin’s executive order. In a Facebook post, he said: “I am in Texas performing my duties as the duly elected Governor of Idaho, and I have not authorized the Lt. Governor to act on my behalf.”
On May 27, McGeachin similarly issued an executive order banning mask requirements in schools and state buildings while Little was out of the state. Little repealed the order on May 28.
Indiana completes redistricting; Iowa Legislature rejects first map proposal
Indiana became the fourth state to enact new congressional and state legislative district boundaries after the 2020 census. The General Assembly approved the maps on Oct. 1, and Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed them into law on Oct. 4. In Indiana, the state legislature is responsible for drawing both congressional and state legislative district lines. Indiana has been a Republican state government trifecta since 2011.
The Indiana state Senate approved the final congressional and legislative district boundaries by a vote of 36-12, with all votes to approve coming from Republicans. Eleven Senate Democrats joined state Sen. Ron Grooms (R) in voting against the maps. The Indiana House of Representatives approved the final district maps by a vote of 64-25. All votes in favor were by Republicans with 22 Democrats and three Republicans voting against.
Kaitlin Lange of the Indianapolis Star wrote that the new congressional boundaries “will enable Republicans to keep seven of the nine congressional seats in Indiana and make the 5th District, which contains suburban Hamilton County, a more reliably Republican district.” The maps will take effect for the 2022 congressional and state legislative elections.
In Iowa, the state Senate rejected the Legislative Services Agency’s (LSA) first proposed congressional and state legislative district boundaries on Oct. 5. The vote was 32-18 along party lines with all votes against the plan from Republicans and all votes in favor by Democrats. Since this was the Agency’s first proposal, the legislature could only vote to approve or reject the maps and could not make any amendments.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R) said, “Senate Republicans believe LSA can improve the compactness and population deviation of several districts by developing a second redistricting plan. My colleagues and I look forward to reviewing that plan and its compliance with the criteria established in Iowa Code.” Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls (D) said, “This was a fair map drawn by the nonpartisan, independent commission. It met all the requirements laid out in state law. This is an outrageous use of political power to rig elections in their favor.”
Under state law, the LSA must send a second redistricting plan to the legislature within 35 days. On Oct. 6, the LSA announced that it would submit its next proposed congressional and legislative redistricting maps to the legislature by Oct. 21. On Sept. 14, the Iowa Supreme Court extended the state’s deadline to complete legislative redistricting to Dec. 1.