Eighty-seven state supreme court seats (25%) up for election this year

Welcome to the Wednesday, July 13, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

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

  1. Eighty-seven seats on state supreme courts are up for election this year
  2. An update on Alaska’s special U.S. House election 
  3. Campaign in North Dakota submits signatures for marijuana legalization initiative

Eighty-seven seats on state supreme courts are up for election this year

Yesterday, we continued our weeklong preview of November elections with a look at the 309 state executive offices that will appear on the ballot. Today, we’re turning our focus to state supreme court elections.   

Eighty-seven seats on 32 state supreme courts are up for election this year. This represents 25% of all state supreme court seats. These elections are split about evenly between contested elections (where more than one candidate appears on the ballot) and retention elections (where only the judge appears on the ballot in a yes/no election). 

Here’s a rundown of what you can expect this November:

  • Retention elections will be used for 44 judicial elections this year, while contested elections will be used for 43 judicial elections.
  • Of the 87 judges up for election this year, 66 are officially nonpartisan. Thirteen justices up for election are Republicans and eight are Democrats.

Here is where elections could change the partisan control of the court. 

  • Illinois: Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the court. One seat from each party is up for election, while another justice from each party is up for retention.
  • Michigan: Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the court, with one seat from each party up for election. 
  • North Carolina: Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the court, with two Democrat-held seats up for election. 
  • Ohio: Republicans hold a 4-3 majority on the court, with three Republican-held seats up for election.

Because many state supreme court justices do not run in partisan races, voters often don’t know their justices’ political leanings. In 2020, we conducted study of the 341 state supreme court justices holding office at that time. As part of that study, we assigned each justice a Confidence Score indicating their partisan affiliation. Of those 341 justices, 179 (52.5%) received Republican Confidence Scores, 113 (33.1%) received Democratic Confidence Scores, and 49 (14.4%) received Indeterminate Confidence Scores

Of the 341 justices studied at the time, 69 no longer serve on state supreme courts. 

States use a variety of methods for selecting state supreme court justices, and not all do so through elections. Click here to learn more about how states select state supreme court justices. 

You can learn more about this November’s state supreme court elections at the link below.

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An update on Alaska’s special U.S. House election 

We’ve brought you periodic updates on the twists and turns of Alaska’s special U.S. House election. Here’s another look at that race.

On Aug. 16, Alaskans will vote in two elections for the same office: a special general election and a regular primary election for the state’s at-large U.S. House district. The special general election features three candidates and will use ranked-choice voting (RCV). Former Rep. Don Young (R), in office since 1973, died in March. 

Sarah Palin (R), Nick Begich III (R), Al Gross (nonpartisan), and Mary Peltola (D) advanced from the June 11 top-four primary. Gross withdrew from the general, endorsing both Peltola and fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney (R). The Alaska Supreme Court subsequently ruled that Sweeney could not take the fourth spot on the ballot due to the timing of Gross’s withdrawal, leaving three candidates in the special general election.

An Alaska Survey Research poll conducted July 2-5 showed Peltola with 40%, Begich with 31%, and Palin with 29% in the first round. The poll showed Begich with 57% to Peltola’s 43% in the final round. Click here for more about how RCV works.

In the June 11 special primary, the 16 Republican candidates received 58% of the vote combined. The 22 candidates running as nonpartisans or undeclared received 24%. Six Democratic candidates received 17%. 

The Alaska Republican Party endorsed Begich, former President Donald Trump backed Palin, and the Alaska AFL-CIO endorsed Peltola. On July 9, Trump headlined a rally in Anchorage in support of Palin. 

In addition to Gross, one undeclared and three Democratic primary candidates endorsed Peltola in the special general election. Primary candidate John Coghill (R) endorsed Begich. Fifteen candidates who ran in the special election—including Begich, Palin, and Peltola—are also running in the regular election. Peltola is the only Democrat running in that race. 

The special House election is the first congressional election using the new voting system Alaskans approved via ballot measure in 2020. The June primary was the first top-four congressional primary in U.S. history. Alaska and Maine are the only states that use ranked-choice voting in congressional elections.

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Campaign in North Dakota submits signatures for marijuana legalization initiative

On July 11, New Approach North Dakota, one of the campaigns behind a marijuana legalization initiative, reported submitting 25,672 signatures. The measure needs 15,582 valid signatures to appear on the November ballot.

The measure would legalize the personal use of cannabis for adults 21 and older and allow individuals to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to three cannabis plants. The measure would require the Department of Health and Human Services, or another department or agency designated by the state legislature, to establish an adult-use cannabis program to regulate the production and distribution of adult-use marijuana by Oct. 1, 2023. Under the measure, the department could license seven cultivation facilities and 18 cannabis retailers. Marijuana would be taxed at the state’s 5% sales tax rate.

If the initiative makes the ballot, it will not be the first time North Dakota voters have considered legalizing marijuana. In 2018, voters rejected a legalization initiative 59.45% to 40.55%. New Approach North Dakota Chairman David Owen was also the chairman of LegalizeND, the committee that sponsored the rejected initiative in 2018. Owen said the biggest difference between the 2018 proposal and the current initiaitve is that “[this initiative] is restricted, regulated, controlled, legal marijuana. This is a marijuana program that is very, very similar to the one that passed the North Dakota State House.”

Along with North Dakota, campaigns submitted signatures for marijuana legalization initiatives targeting the November ballot in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. 

Currently, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the possession and personal use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Eleven states and D.C. had legalized marijuana through the ballot initiative process. 

 Click below to read more about the initiative to legalize marijuana in North Dakota. Click here to read a history of marijuana laws and ballot measures in the United States.

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