State and Local Tap: 171 state legislative vacancies occurred in 2021

Happy New Year! Our weekly summary of state & local news highlights an overview of last year’s state legislative vacancies and an update on California’s mask mandate. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the State & Local Tap.

Ballot Measures Update

Sixty-four statewide measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 30 states so far. One new measure was certified for the ballot last week:

Signatures have been submitted and are pending verification for four additional initiatives in Florida and Massachusetts:

States in session

Fourteen state legislatures—California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont—are in regular session. New Jersey’s 2021 state legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on Jan. 11, 2022.

Special Elections

Nineteen state legislative special elections have been scheduled in 12 states so far this year. Two of those specials were canceled due to lack of opposition.

  • 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 six odd years (2011: 95, 2013: 84, 2015: 89, 2017:99, 2019: 77, 2021: 66).

Upcoming special elections include:

Jan. 11

Jan. 18

Jan. 25

171 state legislative vacancies occurred in 2021

Ballotpedia identified 171 state legislative vacancies across 43 states in 2021. One hundred and twenty-nine (129) of those vacancies have been filled. 

One hundred and twenty-four (124) vacancies occurred in state Houses and 47 occurred in state Senates. Ninety (90) of the vacant seats were originally held by Democrats and 81 were originally held by Republicans.

Seventy-nine (79) vacancies occurred in states that fill vacancies through appointments, 81 occurred in states that fill vacancies through special elections, and 11 occurred in states that fill vacancies through a hybrid system that uses both appointments and special elections.

Arizona had the highest number of vacancies (13), followed by New Hampshire (11) and Oregon (10).

The most common reasons for a state legislative vacancy include an officeholder resigning, dying, leaving for a new job, being elected or appointed to a different office, or receiving a legal conviction. In 2021, Ballotpedia identified 90 state legislative vacancies that were caused by resignations, 52 caused by officeholders being appointed or elected to other offices, 25 caused by deaths, and four caused by removal.

Ballotpedia identified 146 state legislative vacancies in 42 states in 2020 and 177 vacancies in 45 states in 2019.

Two Nebraska school districts to hold recall elections Jan. 11

The Waverly and Leyton school districts in Nebraska are holding recall elections on Jan. 11 against a total of three school board members. Voters will be asked whether they are in favor of recalling the members from office with the option of voting yes or no.

Ward 4 Rep. Andy Grosshans is on the ballot in the Waverly school district. Recall supporters said they began the effort due to Grosshans’ vote to extend an emergency resolution giving the superintendent the power to “develop rules and regulations deemed necessary for the government and health of the district’s students and devise any means as may seem best to secure regular attendance and progress of students at school,” according to The Waverly News. The school board initially passed the emergency resolution in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, the board voted to extend the resolution through the 2021-2022 school year.

In response to the recall effort, Grosshans said, “For 12+ years, I have worked hard to make well-informed decisions to provide the students of District 145 with a safe environment in which to receive an outstanding education. In these difficult times, I hope for continued understanding and patience as we use key resources and area experts to do what’s in the best interest of all students.”

Suzy Ernest and Roland Rushman are on the ballot in the Leyton school district. The recall petitions listed the district’s increased legal fees since January 2021 as reasons for the recall against both Ernest and Rushman. The petition against Ernest said she took action without the full board’s approval on two items: placing the superintendent on paid administrative leave and signing an acceptance for asbestos removal. The petition against Rushman said he failed to follow the Board Code of Ethics and slandered district administrators.

In response to the recall effort against her, Ernest said her action to place the superintendent on paid administrative leave was authorized in the superintendent’s contract. Both Ernest and Rushman said the decision to place the superintendent on paid administrative leave occurred after the board received serious complaints. They said those complaints were the reason behind the district’s increased legal fees. Ernest also said that she signed the acceptance for asbestos removal under the direction of the then-interim superintendent.

Ballotpedia tracked 91 school board recall efforts against 235 board members in 2021—the highest number of school board recall efforts we tracked in one year. The next-highest year was in 2010 with 38 recall efforts against 91 school board members.

In 2021, Ballotpedia covered a total of 339 recall efforts against 529 elected officials. This was the highest number of recall efforts and officials targeted since we started compiling data on recalls in 2012.

Redistricting update: New Mexico enacts new state Senate map

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed a new state Senate map into law on Jan. 6, 2022, which will take effect for New Mexico’s 2022 legislative elections. The New Mexico State Senate voted 25-13 to approve the map on Dec. 16, 2021, and the New Mexico House of Representatives approved the map 38-22 on Dec. 17. State Sens. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D) and Linda Lopez (D) introduced the map bill on December 8 during a special session of the state legislature.

Lujan Grisham previously signed a new state House map into law on Dec. 29. New Mexico was the second state this cycle to approve a state House map on a different date than its state Senate map. The first was Connecticut, which approved its House map on Nov. 18, and its Senate map on Nov. 23. New Mexico completed its congressional redistricting on Dec. 17.

As of Jan. 7, 29 states have adopted new state legislative maps for both chambers and 21 states have not yet adopted state legislative maps. As of Jan. 7, 2012, 32 states had enacted legislative redistricting plans after the 2010 census. Nationwide, state legislative redistricting has been completed for 1,120 of 1,972 state Senate seats (56.8%) and 2,776 of 5,411 state House seats (51.3%).

The New York Independent Redistricting Commission voted 5-5 on two sets of congressional and legislative map proposals on Jan. 3 and submitted both sets of proposed district boundaries to the state legislature. The Democrats on the commission had proposed one set of maps and the Republicans on the commission proposed the other. New York law requires that the commission submit a redistricting plan to the legislature “on or before January 1, 2022, or as soon as practicable thereafter, but no later than January 15, 2022.”

New York voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 revising the state’s redistricting procedures and establishing a 10-member commission to approve congressional and legislative district boundaries. The majority and minority leaders of each chamber of the legislature appoint two members each and those eight commissioners appoint two additional members that are not enrolled in either of the top two major political parties in the state.

If the New York legislature does not approve the initial redistricting plan or the governor vetoes it, the commission has 15 days to submit a second plan for consideration. This second plan must be submitted to the legislature no later than Feb. 28.

Kentucky enacted legislation on Jan. 6 extending the deadline for congressional, legislative, judicial, and local candidates to file to run for election this year from Jan. 7 to Jan. 25. The state House passed the legislation on Jan. 5, and Gov. Steve Beshear (D) signed it after the state Senate passed it on Jan. 6.

The delay in the filing deadline was necessary as the state has not yet approved new district boundaries after the 2020 census. Joe Sonka of the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote that “Both chambers are scheduled to remain in session Saturday [Jan. 8] to give final passage to several redistricting bills crafted by the Republican supermajority, including ones making new maps for the state House and Senate, Kentucky’s U.S. House districts and the Kentucky Supreme Court.” 

California extends indoor mask mandate

On Jan. 5, the California Department of Health extended the state’s indoor mask requirement through Feb. 15. The California Department of Health first instituted the new statewide indoor mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals on Dec. 15, 2021. 

California is one of nine states with statewide mask orders for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. One state—has a statewide mask order that applies only to unvaccinated individuals. All 10 states have Democratic governors. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 39 states have issued statewide mask requirements, and 32 states (16 states with Republican governors and 16 states with Democratic governors) have allowed statewide orders to expire. Four states—Louisiana, Rhode Island, Illinois, and Oregon—that allowed a statewide order to fully expire later reinstated a mask order.