Department of Justice sues Texas over its congressional, state legislative maps

Our weekly summary of state & local news highlights redistricting updates in Texas and the Virginia House recounts. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the State & Local Tap.

Ballot Measures Update

2021 review

Voters in nine states decided 39 statewide ballot measures on four different election dates in 2021. Twenty-six were approved and 13 were defeated. Four of the measures were citizen initiatives, three were advisory questions about taxes in Washington, eight were bond issues, one was a legislatively referred statute, and the remaining 23 were legislatively referred constitutional amendments.

2022 ballot measures

Sixty-three statewide measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 30 states so far. No new measures were certified for the ballot last week.

States in session

Seven state legislatures—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:

  • Dec. 11 – Louisiana: Voters in New Orleans will decide two property tax measures to fund housing and libraries, respectively.
  • Nov. 13 – Louisiana: Voters in Baton Rouge approved a property tax measure to fund public transportation.
  • Nov. 9 – Arkansas: Voters in Little Rock approved a property tax increase for libraries.
  • Nov. 2 – Ballotpedia covered 156 local ballot measures on the Nov. 2 ballot in 18 states.  The outcome of the final measure was called on Dec. 6 after a recount was finalized in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Voters approved 109 measures and defeated 47.
  • On Dec. 17, Ballotpedia will publish its year-end analysis of all 2021 local ballot measures in the top 100 largest cities and state capitals. This includes local measures that were on the ballot for more than 20 pre-November election dates.

Special Elections

Sixty-six state legislative special elections have been scheduled in 21 states so far this year. Sixty-four specials have taken place already. Heading into those races, Democrats had previously controlled 32 of the seats and Republicans previously controlled 32. Three seats flipped from Democratic control to Republican control, and three seats 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:

Dec. 14

Initial results in recall of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant

Seattle held an election on Dec. 7 asking voters if District 3 City Councilmember Kshama Sawant should be recalled. Initial results published on election night showed 53% supporting the recall and 47% opposing it. Washington uses mail-in voting, and ballots needed to be postmarked by election day. King County Elections will continue counting mail ballots in the coming days and will certify election results on Dec. 17. 

According to The Seattle Times, this was the first city council recall to make the ballot in Seattle’s history.

Recall organizers alleged that Sawant misused city funds in support of a ballot initiative, disregarded regulations related to COVID-19 by admitting people into City Hall for a rally, and misused her official position by disclosing Mayor Jenny Durkan’s home address to protesters. Sawant referred to the effort as a “right-wing recall” and called the charges against her dishonest. See our coverage linked below to read the full sample ballot and court filings from both parties.

Sawant was first elected in 2013. Though the office of city council is officially nonpartisan, Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party and was the first socialist elected to Seattle city government in 97 years.

Only voters within District 3 could vote in the recall election. If Sawant is recalled, council members will appoint a replacement and a special election will be held in 2022. The next regularly scheduled election for this seat is in 2023. Sawant would be eligible to run in those elections.

Voters recall Kansas county commissioner

A recall election against Brian Kinzie (R), District Two representative on the Labette County Commission in Kansas, was held on Dec. 7. A majority of voters—58.9%, according to unofficial election night results—cast ballots in favor of the recall, removing Kinzie from office.

The recall effort started after Kinzie voted in April 2021 in favor of a motion to enter into final negotiations to allow a wind energy company to place 50 to 70 wind turbines in the county. The motion passed with a vote of 2-1. Recall supporters said they were concerned that Kinzie or his family stood to financially benefit from the deal. Kinzie said, “I’ve given this community 45 years of my life and I’ll continue to do so until there’s no fight left.”

Before recall petitions can be circulated in Kansas, a district attorney or county attorney must certify that it meets specific legal grounds. The petition against Kinzie was allowed to circulate due to findings that Kinzie had committed misconduct. The Office of the Attorney General of Kansas found that Kinzie and fellow commissioner Cole Proehl violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act when they discussed county business on a phone call outside of a public commission meeting. The attorney general’s office did not file formal charges against Kinzie and Proehl. Instead, they were required to take a refresher course on public meeting compliance.

Kinzie filed a challenge to the sufficiency declaration in Labette County District Court. A senior judge denied his requests to stop the recall process.

Kinzie was serving his fourth term on the three-member commission.

In the first half of 2021, Ballotpedia tracked 165 recall efforts against 263 officials. This was the most recall efforts for this point in the year since the first half of 2016, when we tracked 189 recall efforts against 265 officials. In comparison, we tracked between 72 and 155 efforts by the midpoints of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

U.S. Department of Justice sues Texas over its congressional, state legislative maps

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas on Dec. 6, alleging that the state’s newly enacted congressional and legislative maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. As of Dec. 8, we’ve tracked 34 redistricting-related lawsuits in 16 states. Seven of those lawsuits concern Texas’ redistricting process.

The Department of Justice’s complaint stated, “The Legislature refused to recognize the state’s growing minority electorate. Although the Texas congressional delegation expanded from 36 to 38 seats, Texas designed the two new seats to have Anglo voting majorities.”

The lawsuit is the first legal action the department has taken against a state in the 2020 redistricting cycle. Ballotpedia tracked lawsuits in 37 states related to redistricting following the 2010 census. So far, 22 states have adopted legislative district maps and 18 states have adopted congressional district maps.

Also, oral arguments concluded before the Ohio Supreme Court on Dec. 8 in a case regarding the state’s legislative maps that the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved by a 5-2 vote on Sept. 16. The plaintiffs argued that the maps do not conform with the provisions of the state’s 2015 Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment. The court did not provide details regarding its timeline for releasing a ruling, with Susan Tebben of the Ohio Capital Journal writing, “The state supreme court won’t issue its decision for a while.”

Cordoza declared winner in Virginia House recount, confirming 52-48 Republican majority

On Dec. 8, a three-judge circuit court panel ruled Aijalon Cordoza (R) the winner of the election in Virginia House of Delegates District 91. The decision confirmed that Republicans won a 52-48 majority in the chamber. Officials in District 85, the only other district where a candidate requested a recount, confirmed on Dec. 3 that Karen Greenhalgh’s (R) defeated Alex Askew (D).

Although certified results released on Nov. 15 showed Republicans winning 52 races and Democrats winning 48, the winning candidates’ margin of victory in District 85 and District 91 were within 1% of the total votes cast. Under Virginia law, the second-place finishers may request a recount within 10 days of results being certified. Askew and Mugler filed court petitions for recounts on Nov. 17.

Prior to the election, Democrats controlled the chamber with a 55-45 majority. Republicans needed to gain six seats to take control of the chamber in 2021, and Democrats needed to hold at least 51 seats to maintain their majority. Five of the ten preceding elections in the chamber saw net shifts of six seats or more: twice in Republicans’ favor and three times in Democrats’. On average, 6.6 seats shifted control per election cycle during that same time frame.

The outcome of the House elections, in addition to the state’s 2021 gubernatorial election, also determined Virginia’s trifecta status. Virginia became a Democratic trifecta in 2019 for the first time since 1994. Since Republicans won control of the House and the governorship in 2021, they have ended Democrats’ trifecta control of the state.

Nov. 2 local ballot measure results final with Dec. 6 recount results in Colorado Springs

On Dec. 6, the El Paso County, Colorado, Elections Department announced the conclusion of a recount on a Colorado Springs School District bond measure, Issue 4B.

Issue 4B failed by 11 votes with 27,476 votes against and 27,465 votes in favor. It would have authorized the district to issue $350 million in bonds for school facility construction and capital improvements.

Issue 4B was the last measure to be called out of the 156 local ballot measures Ballotpedia covered in 18 different states on Nov. 2. Voters approved 109 measures and defeated 47.