The highest cost-per-vote statewide ballot measures

Welcome to the Friday, October 15, Brew. 

By: Doug Kronaizl

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Maine’s Question 1 could have the highest cost-per-vote ratio recorded by Ballotpedia
  2. One federal judicial nominee confirmed since Senate’s return to session
  3. Voters flip Iowa House seat to Republican in Oct. 12 special election 

Maine’s Question 1 could have the highest cost-per-vote ratio recorded by Ballotpedia

Maine’s Question 1, a citizen-initiated measure, could see one of the highest cost-per-vote ratios for a ballot measure that Ballotpedia has recorded. The measure would prohibit the construction of certain electric transmission lines in the state’s Upper Kennebec Region unless two-thirds of the members of both chambers of the legislature approve the development of such lines. Question 1 was designed to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project in the region.

Supporters raised more than $71.8 million through Sept. 30, equal to $52.71 for each of Maine’s 1.4 million residents. The final cost-per-vote will be higher than that figure since additional contributions will be reported and only a portion of residents will turn out to vote.

If turnout this November is similar to turnout in recent election cycles (between 17% and 34% from 2015-2019), between 203,000 and 380,000 voters may cast ballots. That would result in a cost-per-vote ratio of anywhere between $189 and $353 for Question 1. 

Of the five highest cost-per-vote ratios since 2017, three have addressed policies related to energy. Voters rejected all five. Here’s a closer look at those five highest cost-per-vote ratios in that time with Maine estimates for comparison:

  • Nevada’s Question 3 (2018): $100.85. It would have required the state legislature to pass laws to establish “an open, competitive retail electric energy market” and prohibited the state from granting electrical-generation monopolies.
  • Ohio’s Issue 2 (2017): $37.79. It would have required state agencies and programs to purchase prescription drugs at prices no higher than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays for them.
  • Arizona’s Proposition 127 (2018): $23.80. The measure would have required electric utilities in Arizona to acquire a certain percentage of electricity from renewable resources each year, with the percentage increasing annually from 12 percent in 2020 to 50 percent in 2030.

An influx of money does not, by itself, guarantee a high cost-per-vote ratio. State population and voter turnout play an important role. For example, California’s Proposition 22, which defined app-based rideshare and delivery drivers as independent contractors, is the most expensive ballot measure on record. Supporters and opponents raised over $224.3 million, which was about $5.67 per California resident. Seventeen million million people voted on Proposition 22, giving it a cost-per-vote ratio of $13.11 per vote.

While Ballotpedia does not track cost-per-vote ratios in other races, the U.S. Senate election in Maine between incumbent Sen. Susan Collins (R) and Sara Gideon (D) in 2020 saw $106,649,052 raised, resulting in a ratio of $130.19 per vote.

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One federal judicial nominee confirmed since Senate’s return to session

Since returning from its August recess, the U.S. Senate has confirmed one of U.S. President Joe Biden’s (D) federal judicial nominees: Sarah A.L. Merriam to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. Merriam previously served as a federal magistrate judge on the same court since 2015.

Biden nominated Merriam to the court on June 15 to replace Janet Hall, who assumed senior status on Jan. 21. The Senate confirmed Merriam on Oct. 6 by a 54-46 vote. All 48 Democrats, both independents, and four Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)—voted to confirm Merriam. Republicans cast all 46 votes against Merriam’s confirmation.

To date, 16 of Biden’s federal judicial nominees have been confirmed, the earliest that benchmark has been reached by any president since at least Ronald Reagan (R). The chart below shows the length of time, in days, it took the last seven presidents to confirm 16 federal judicial nominees:

As of Oct. 14, 11 Article III judicial nominees are awaiting a confirmation vote from the full U.S. Senate, five nominees are awaiting a Senate Judiciary Committee vote to advance their nominations to the full Senate, and 19 nominees are awaiting a hearing before the committee.

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Voters flip Iowa House seat to Republican in Oct. 12 special election

A special election was held for Iowa’s House of Representatives District 29 on Oct. 12. Jon Dunwell (R) won the special election with 59.8% of the vote, defeating Steve Mullan (D).

The special election was called after Rep. Wesley Breckenridge (D) resigned to take a job with the Iowa Law Enforcement Agency on Sept. 10. Breckenridge served from 2017 to 2021 and most recently defeated Dunwell in the 2020 election. Democrats had held District 29 since the district lines were redrawn after the 2010 census.

Voter turnout decreased by 71% compared to the 2020 general election.

This was the third state legislative special election held in Iowa in 2021. One was held for Senate District 41 on Jan. 26 and another for House District 37 on Sept. 14.

As of Oct. 14, three state legislative seats had flipped party control in 2021 as a result of state legislative special elections nationwide. Connecticut State Senate District 36 flipped from Democratic to Republican and New Hampshire’s House of Representatives District Hillsborough 7 flipped from Republican to Democratic. 

If no more state legislative seats change party control in a special election this year, it would be the lowest number of such events since 2010, when no seats flipped. From 2010 to 2020, an average of 10 state legislative seats changed party control in special elections each year.

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