Our weekly summary of state & local news highlights new indoor mask requirements in three states and five constitutional amendments passed in the Pennsylvania House. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the State & Local Tap.
Note: We will not be publishing The State & Local Tap on Dec. 25 or Jan. 2. We’ll return to your inboxes on Jan. 8. Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones from all of us at Ballotpedia!
Ballot Measures Update
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.
Proponents of three additional citizen initiatives in South Dakota and Massachusetts have submitted signatures:
- South Dakota Medicaid Expansion Amendment Initiative (2022)
- Massachusetts App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative (2022)
- Massachusetts Changes to Alcohol Retail Licensing Initiative (2022)
Three candidates file for South Carolina Senate special election
Three candidates have filed to run in the special election for District 31 in the South Carolina State Senate. State Rep. Jay Jordan (R), Mike Reichenbach (R), and Suzanne La Rochelle (D) all filed before the Dec. 11 filing deadline. Jordan and Reichenbach will face off in the Republican primary on Jan. 25. The winner of the Republican primary will face La Rochelle in the special election on March 29.
The seat became vacant after the death of Hugh Leatherman (R) on Nov. 12. He had served in the state Senate since 1981. He was unopposed in his re-election bid in 2020.
Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 29-16 majority in the state Senate with one vacancy. South Carolina has a Republican 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 December, 15 state legislative special elections have been scheduled to take place in 2022. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. South Carolina held 33 state legislative special elections from 2010 to 2020.
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 decided two property tax measures to fund housing and libraries, respectively. The libraries tax measure was approved, and the housing tax measure was defeated.
- 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.
Sixty-six state legislative special elections took place in 21 states this year. Heading into those races, Democrats had previously controlled 33 of the seats, and Republicans previously controlled 33. Three seats flipped from Democratic control to Republican control, and three seats flipped from Republican control to Democratic control.
Another 15 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2022 in nine states.
- In special elections between 2011 and 2021, 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 85 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past five odd years (2011: 95, 2013: 84, 2015: 89, 2017: 98, 2019: 77, 2021: 66).
Upcoming special elections include:
- Florida State Senate District 33 (primary)
- Florida House of Representatives District 88 (primary)
- Florida House of Representatives District 94 (primary)
- Maine House of Representatives District 27
- Massachusetts State Senate First Suffolk & Middlesex District
Voters recall Nebraska county supervisor
A recall election against Doris Karloff (R), District 2 representative of the seven-member Saunders County Board of Supervisors in Nebraska, was held on Dec. 14. A majority of voters cast ballots in favor of the recall to remove Karloff from office.
The recall effort was started by Rhonda Carritt, a resident of Wahoo, Nebraska, which is represented by Karloff on the county board of supervisors. Carritt said Karloff was not representing “the best interests of the district.” Carritt confirmed with the Wahoo Newspaper that the recall was related to a solar farm project in the county among other things.
Karloff’s son went into contract with the company starting the solar farm. Because of that connection, Karloff said she abstained from all discussions on the permit and did not vote on any actions related to the solar farm. “I have tried to do my best to make sure that I was doing everything legally correct,” Karloff said.
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.
Ballotpedia’s The Heart of the Primaries delivered weekly starting Jan. 6
Texas will hold the first primary elections of the 2022 midterms on March 1. North Carolina was scheduled to hold the second statewide primary on March 8, but a recent state supreme court decision postponed those primaries until May.
What do these primaries—and the hundreds of others approaching—mean for the direction of the major parties and the nation?
We have stories on these primaries and more in our third issue of The Heart of the Primaries, which went out Dec. 16. Starting in January, we’ll send out one Democratic version and one Republican version of The Heart of the Primaries each week, allowing you to follow stories happening within the party you care most about (or both!).
Click here to subscribe and to read previous issues.
Kshama Sawant defeats recall effort
District 3 City Councilmember Kshama Sawant defeated a recall effort in Seattle, Washington. The election was held Dec. 7. As of Dec. 16, there were 306 more votes opposed to the recall than supporting it. Results will be certified Dec. 17.
The Seattle Times reported, “Any challenged ballots resolved between the time votes were counted on Thursday afternoon and the 4:30 p.m. deadline — about a two-hour window — were to be added to the count before certification, according to King County Elections Chief of Staff Kendall Hodson. That number is unlikely to change the results.”
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 residents to protesters. Sawant referred to the effort as a “right-wing recall” and called the charges dishonest. See our coverage below to read the full sample ballot and court filings from both parties.
Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party. The city council office is officially nonpartisan.
Three states enact indoor mask requirements
Since Dec. 10, three states have announced new indoor mask requirements:
- New York: A new mask requirement took effect Dec. 13. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) made the announcement Dec. 10. Under the order, masks are required regardless of vaccination status at indoor public settings, unless the business or venue mandates proof of vaccination.
- California: The California Department of Health issued an order requiring indoor mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people in some parts of the state. The requirement, which went into effect Dec. 15, only applies to local health jurisdictions that did not previously have a universal indoor mask requirement, meaning the order does not affect localities with pre-existing universal mask requirements.
- Rhode Island: On Dec. 15, Gov. Dan McKee (D) announced a new statewide mask requirement would go into effect on Dec. 20. Under the order, masks will be required regardless of vaccination status at indoor venues with a capacity of 250 or more. For smaller indoor venues and businesses with indoor operations, establishments will have to either require masks for all individuals, require vaccines for all individuals, or allow individuals to either wear a mask or show proof of vaccination.
As of Dec. 17, masks were required in ten states with Democratic governors. Thirteen states with Democratic governors and all 27 states with Republican governors had no state-level mask requirements in effect.
Redistricting updates in Alaska, South Carolina, and Virginia
The cities of Skagway and Valdez, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and three Anchorage residents filed four lawsuits challenging Alaska’s legislative redistricting plan. The deadline to file challenges was Dec. 10 All four lawsuits request the Alaska Redistricting Board revise its Nov. 10 map.
Three of the challenges allege the redistricting plan does not adhere to the state’s requirement that each district contains an “integrated socio-economic area.” The Matanuska-Susitna Borough lawsuit contends that each of the borough’s state House districts is overpopulated and dilutes the borough’s votes.
Alaska has had a five-member independent redistricting commission since 1998. Two commissioners are appointed by the governor, one by the state Senate majority leader, one by the state House majority leader, and one by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court. The commission voted 3-2 to approve the maps. The three Republican-appointed members voted in favor of the maps, while the two members without a party affiliation voted against.
South Carolina enacted new state legislative district maps on Dec. 10 when Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed a proposal approved by the South Carolina House and Senate into law. The South Carolina Senate approved House and Senate map proposals in a 43-1 vote on Dec. 7, and the House approved the new districts in a 75-27 vote on Dec. 9. Gov. McMaster signed the bill into law the next day. This map will take effect for South Carolina’s 2022 state legislative elections.
Rep. Wendy Brawley (D) said the proposal was “highly gerrymandered…to the disadvantage of most Democrats and to the disadvantage of many minorities — it protects Republicans.” Rep. Jay Jordan (R) said, “We worked very hard to make sure that was not the case, and I feel very comfortable in saying that was not the case.”
The Supreme Court of Virginia is expected to approve final congressional and legislative maps on Dec. 19. Two special masters that the court had selected on Nov. 19 released proposed district boundaries on Dec. 8. Virginia Mercury’s Peter Galuszka wrote that the maps “tend to favor Democrats more than Republicans because they are concentrated around natural social centers, such as cities.”
This was the first redistricting cycle after Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 establishing a commission-led redistricting process. However, that commission missed its deadlines, sending authority to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which, in turn, named the two special masters—one nominated by Democrats and one by Republicans.
Pennsylvania House passes five constitutional amendments; bill heads back to state Senate
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved a bill that contains five constitutional amendments, which voters would decide as distinct ballot measures, on Dec. 15. In April, the state Senate approved the bill as a single constitutional amendment. Since the House changed the bill to include more constitutional amendments, the bill returns to the Senate for final first-session approval during the 2021-2022 legislative session. Topics include the lieutenant governor election, executive order time limits, legislative disapproval of regulations, election audits, and voter identification.
In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments require legislative approval during two successive legislative sessions. The legislation would need to be approved again during the 2023-2024 legislative session before voters would decide the changes. The earliest possible date for the amendments is the spring municipal elections on May 16, 2023.
The original version of the bill was a constitutional amendment to allow a political party’s candidate for governor to choose their own candidate for lieutenant governor. Currently, a party’s nominees for governor and lieutenant governor run on a joint ticket during the general election but in separate primaries. On April 27, 2021, the Senate voted 43-4 to pass the bill. The four votes against the amendment were two Democrats and two Republicans.
On Dec. 14, the House voted to add the four additional constitutional amendments to the bill. The lieutenant governor amendment also received a grammatical change. Votes on two amendments were along party lines, with all 113 Republicans supporting and all 90 Democrats opposing. On the other two amendments, one Democrat joined Republicans in supporting the changes. Along with the lieutenant governor amendment, the amended bill includes:
- a constitutional amendment to provide that executive orders and proclamations with the force and effect of law cannot last more than 21 days without legislative approval;
- a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to pass a resolution, which the governor cannot veto, by a simple majority to disapprove regulations;
- a constitutional amendment to require election audits, including elections administration, election machine certification, the list of registered voters, and election results; and
- a constitutional amendment to require voter identification, regardless of the voting method.
In the 50-seat Senate, Democrats hold 21 seats, Republicans hold 28 seats, and an independent holds one seat.