Examining the 173 state legislative vacancies in 2021

Welcome to the Tuesday, January 11, Brew. 

By: Douglas Kronaizl

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

  1. There were 173 vacancies in state legislatures in 2021
  2. Florida U.S. House District 20 and nine other elections today
  3. Monthly update: 11 federal judges nominated, 12 confirmed in December 2021

There were 173 vacancies in state legislatures in 2021

Ballotpedia tracked 173 state legislative vacancies across 43 states in 2021. As of Jan. 6, 2022, 130 of those vacancies have been filled. Of the 43 remaining, 24 have special elections scheduled for sometime in 2022 and 19 are awaiting appointees.

Looking at party affiliations before the vacancies, Democrats represented 92 of the districts and Republicans represented 81. Most of these vacancies have been filled by legislators from the same party as their predecessors. Of the vacancies that have been filled, six changed party control: Republicans picked up three Democratic vacancies and Democrats picked up three Republican vacancies.

Arizona had the largest number of vacancies with 13 followed by New Hampshire with 11 and Oregon with 10. Both Arizona and Oregon fill vacancies through appointments while New Hampshire holds special elections.

Vacancies might occur for any number of reasons: resignations, death, new jobs, or legal convictions. In 2021, we found 90 vacancies where legislators resigned, 53 where officeholders were appointed or elected to other offices, 25 due to deaths, and four where officeholders were removed from office.

Of the six changes to party control, five occurred following a resignation and one—a Republican-to-Democratic change—came following the death of the preceding legislator.

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

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Florida U.S. House District 20 and nine other elections today

It is the second Tuesday of 2022, which means it’s back to elections! Ballotpedia is covering 10 elections taking place today, Jan. 11, including a special election to fill a vacancy in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. Let’s take a quick look at what we’re following.

  • Florida U.S. House District 20: Six candidates are running in the special general election for Florida’s 20th Congressional District. The former incumbent, Alcee Hastings (D), died on April 6, 2021. Primary elections took place on Nov. 2, 2021.

    Hastings had been in office since 1993 and, since 2012, had won re-election every two years by an average of 64.3 percentage points. He ran unopposed in 2018. This has led race forecasters like Inside Elections to rate the special election as Solid Democratic.

    Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, the Democratic nominee, won her primary by a five-vote margin, 0.01% of the overall vote. Jason Mariner (R) won the Republican nomination. Mike ter Maat (L) is running as a Libertarian with the remaining three candidates—Jim Flynn, Leonard Serratore, and Shelly Fain—running with no party affiliation.
  • Special state legislative general elections: Voters in three vacant state legislative districts will elect new legislators: Maine’s House District 27, Massachusetts Senate 1st Suffolk & Middlesex District, and Virginia’s House District 89. In all three cases, the previous incumbents—all Democrats—resigned.

    Democrats will continue to represent the Massachusetts Senate district, where Lydia Edwards (D) is the only candidate on the ballot. Voters in Maine and Virginia will see major party competition. Democrats have represented both districts for the past decade.
  • Special state legislative primary elections: There are also four state legislative primary elections where voters will select nominees for upcoming special general elections. 

    In Arkansas’ Senate District 7, Republican voters will participate in a primary runoff between Colby Fulfer (R) and Steven Unger (R). The two candidates advanced to a runoff after placing first and second, respectively, in a Dec. 14, 2021, primary election. A candidate needed to receive at least 50% of the vote to advance directly to the general election. The winner of the runoff will face Lisa Parks (D) on Feb. 8. Republicans have represented the district since 2012.

    In Florida, there will be Democratic primaries in Senate District 33 and House Districts 88 and 94. Democrats represented all three districts before resigning from office to run in the special congressional election where they lost to Cherfilus-McCormick. Florida law requires elected officials to resign in order to run for another office. General elections will be held on March 8.
  • School board recalls: We are also covering two school board recall elections in two Nebraska school districts: Leyton Public Schools and Waverly School District 145. Ballotpedia has identified 20 school board recall efforts so far in 2022, equal to the total number of school board recalls tracked in 2009, 2011, and 2019.

    Two board members—Suzy Ernest and Roland Ruhsman—are named in the Leyton recall. William Abbott Jr. filed the recall petitions, listing increased legal fees as reasons for both efforts in addition to issues regarding the superintendent and ethics codes.

    In Waverly, Rebecca Kellner-Ratzlaff filed the petition to recall Andy Grosshans, the district’s Ward 4 representative and school board president. Kellner-Ratzlaff said she filed the petition in response to Grosshans votes in favor of emergency resolutions regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

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Monthly update: 11 federal judges nominated, 12 confirmed in December 2021

We recently released our Federal Vacancy Count report for December 2021, which highlights judicial activity during the month of December through Jan. 1, 2022. During that time, President Joe Biden (D) named 11 nominees to Article III judgeships and the U.S. Senate confirmed 12 such judges to lifetime positions. Meanwhile, nine judges left active status, creating new vacancies. Eight of those judges assumed senior status and one—Judge Lucy H. Koh—left the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California upon her confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

By Jan. 1, 347 days into his presidency, Biden had nominated 73 judges to Article III judgeships, 40 of whom the Senate has confirmed. This is a larger number of nominees than Donald Trump (R) and Barack Obama (D) had by Jan. 1 of their first years in office. George W. Bush (R) nominated 106 judges by this time, 52 of whom the Senate confirmed.

The chart below shows the same information include in the graph above but over time. This includes unsuccessful nominations (for example, the nomination was withdrawn or the U.S. Senate did not vote on the nomination), renominations of individuals to the same court, and recess appointments. A recess appointment is when a president appoints a federal official while the Senate is in recess.

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