State law in four states requires partisan labels for school board elections

Welcome to the Monday, October 3, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

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

  1. Laws in four states require partisan labels for school board elections 
  2. Battleground preview—Pennsylvania gubernatorial election 
  3. 60% of all state legislative seats up for election in South Carolina do not have major party competition

Laws in four states require partisan labels for school board elections 

Ballotpedia’s Hall Pass newsletter covers school board politics and education policy, and it hits inboxes every Wednesday. The story below is adapted from research we featured in Hall Pass last week. 

Partisan school board elections are far from the norm. The vast majority of school districts—estimated at around 90%—hold nonpartisan elections, in which candidates run without a party affiliation affixed to their name on the ballot. As we told you last month, there are 13,194 K-12 school districts in the country. 

With general elections coming up on Nov. 8, we thought it would be a good time to dig into our research on where state law provides for partisan school board elections. Two questions guided this research: First, could we find a state law providing for partisan elections? Second, does state law give local governments the flexibility to hold partisan elections if they choose?

Here’s what we found:

  • In 41 states and the District of Columbia, state law requires nonpartisan elections for school boards.
  • Law in four states—Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, and, with some exceptions, Pennsylvania—automatically allow partisan school board board elections or party labels to appear on the ballot. These four states have a combined 878 school districts and 7,652 elected school board members. That’s about seven percent of all school districts in the country.
  • Laws in at least five states—Georgia, Rhode Island, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina—either explicitly allow for partisan or nonpartisan elections or gives local authorities enough control over elections to effectively allow the option. These five states have a combined 554 school districts and 3,342 elected school board members.

In North Carolina and Georgia, some districts hold partisan elections while others do not. As of 2018, at least 36 county school districts in North Carolina had adopted partisan elections. According to the Georgia School Board Association, in 2021, 109 of the state’s 180 school districts have non-partisan elections, leaving 71 with partisan elections. 

Tennessee joined Georgia and North Carolina in allowing—but not requiring—districts to hold partisan school board elections on Nov. 12, 2021, when Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed HB9072 into law. The law, which took effect immediately, says candidates can run as the representative of a political party if a county party committee “elects to conduct school board elections on a partisan basis.” In districts holding partisan elections, the law says “political parties may elect to nominate a candidate under party rules rather than by primary election.” 

According to Chalkbeat Tennessee, school board candidates in more than half of Tennessee’s counties ran in partisan races in the Aug. 4 primary.  

Click here to read a debate we featured in Hall Pass earlier this year on partisan school board elections. 

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Battleground preview—Pennsylvania gubernatorial election 

​​We’re previewing pivotal battleground elections across the country up until election day. Today, let’s look at Pennsylvania, one of 36 states holding gubernatorial elections. Pennsylvania is also one of 13 states with divided government.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), and three other candidates are running in the general election for governor Nov. 8. Incumbent Tom Wolf (D) is term-limited.

Shapiro was elected attorney general in 2016. He served as Montgomery County Commissioner from 2011 to 2017 and in the state House from 2005 to 2011. Shapiro’s campaign has focused on two key messages: his record as attorney general and his potential ability as governor to veto legislation the legislature’s Republican majority passes. Shapiro said his experience in the criminal justice system and on cases related to LGBTQ issues, workers’ issues, and election security are things he would continue to pursue as governor. Shapiro’s campaign website highlighted abortion and absentee/mail-in voting as issues which he would veto legislation he disagreed with.

Mastriano was elected as a state senator from the Cumberland Valley in 2018. He served in the United States Army from 1988 to 2017. Mastriano has proposed a number of election policy changes, including eliminating no-excuse absentee/mail-in voting and drop boxes, enacting universal voter identification, and prohibiting the use of private donations or grants for election administration. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mastriano called on the legislature to pass a bill banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Mastriano said he would rescind any remaining mask and vaccine mandates related to the coronavirus pandemic on his first day in office and work to pass a law banning similar future mandates.

How the state runs its elections has been one focus of each candidate’s campaign. Currently, the governor of Pennsylvania appoints a secretary of state charged with certifying election results, determining which voting machines the state uses, and ordering recounts and recanvasses of elections. Shapiro said, “[I will] appoint a pro-democracy Secretary of State to run our elections, expand pre-registration opportunities for young people, and implement same-day voter registration through Election Day.” Mastriano’s website said he would “Appoint a Secretary of State with experience in securing elections from fraud.”

Minor party, independent, and write-in candidates include Christina Digiulio (G), Joseph Soloski (Keystone Party of Pennsylvania), and Matt Hackenburg (L).

Each candidate has a running mate for lieutenant governor. Shapiro’s running mate is state Rep. Austin Davis, and Mastriano’s running mate is state Rep. Carrie DelRosso. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) ran for U.S. Senate rather than seek re-election.

Click below to read more about the gubernatorial election. 

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60% of all state legislative seats up for election in South Carolina do not have major party competition

We are 36 days away from the Nov. 8 general elections—and 25 days into our 50 States in 50 Days series. Today, at the halfway point, we’re featuring South Carolina, the Palmetto State.

Week One: Pennsylvania, Indiana, South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota
Week Two: California, Georgia, Texas, Montana
Week Three: North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, Illinois, Idaho
Week Four: Kentucky, Michigan, Arkansas, Minnesota, West Virginia
Week Five: Vermont, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, Ohio

On the ballot in South Carolina

At the federal level, South Carolina voters will elect one U.S. Senator and seven U.S. Representatives. 

At the state level, the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state are up for election. No state supreme court seats are up for election in 2022.

All 124 seats in the state House of Representatives are up for election. The 46 seats in the state Senate will not be up for election until 2024. 

Of the seven U.S. House seats up for election, none are open. Of the 124 state legislative seats up for election, 15 are open. 

Redistricting highlights

South Carolina was apportioned seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census, the same number it was apportioned after the 2010 census. 

Congressional and state legislative elections will take place under new district lines following the census. Our side-by-side map comparison tool allows you to immediately see what redistricting looks like in your state. Here are the congressional maps in effect before and after the 2020 redistricting cycle in South Carolina:  

To use our tool to view South Carolina’s state legislative maps in effect before and after the 2020 redistricting cycle, visit our  South Carolina redistricting page

Partisan balance

  • Both of South Carolina’s U.S. Senators–Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott–are Republicans. 
  • Republicans represent six of the state’s U.S. House districts. Democrats represent one.
  • Republicans hold a 30-16 majority in the state Senate and a 81-43 majority in the state House of Representatives. The governor–Henry McMaster–is a Republican, making South Carolina one of the nation’s 23 Republican trifectas. South Carolina has been a Republican trifecta since 2003. 
  • South Carolina’s governor, attorney general, and secretary of state are Republicans, making it one of the nation’s 23 Republican triplexes. 

Seats contested by only one major party

In 2022, 74 state legislative seats in South Carolina, or 60% of all seats up for

election, do not have major party competition. When a candidate from only one of

either the Democratic or Republican parties runs for a state legislative seat, the seat

is all but guaranteed to be won by that party.

Democrats are running in 55% of all state legislative races. Fifty-six state legislative seats (45% of all state legislative seats) do not feature a Democratic candidate and are likely to be won by a Republican.

Republicans are running in 85% of all state legislative races. Eighteen seats (15%

of all state legislative seats) do not feature a Republican candidate and are likely to

be won by a Democrat.

Key races

  • South Carolina gubernatorial election, 2022: Governor Henry McMaster (R), Joe Cunningham (D), and Morgan Bruce Reeves (L) are running for governor of South Carolina. Cunningham’s 2018 U.S. House win in the state’s 1st congressional district made him the first Democrat to represent the district since 1978. This has drawn national media attention to the gubernatorial race, though analysts have rated it as solid/safe for Republicans. 
  • South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District election, 2022: Incumbent Nancy Mace (R), Annie Andrews (D), Joseph Oddo (A), and Alejandro Otman (I) are running to represent South Carolina’s 1st district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mace defeated the same primary opponent that lost this seat to the Democrats in 2018. 

Ballot measures

South Carolina voters will decide two statewide ballot measures on Nov. 8, 2022: 

A total of 54 ballot measures appeared on statewide ballots between 1985 and 2018. Of that number, 45 ballot measures were approved, and nine were defeated.


  • On Election Day, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. An individual in line at the time polls close must be allowed to vote. 
  • South Carolina requires voters to present photo identification. For more information about voter ID requirements in South Carolina, click here
  • Early voting in South Carolina is available to all voters. Early voting starts on Oct. 24 and ends on Nov. 5.
  • The voting registration deadline in South Carolina is Oct. 7 if registering in person. The online deadline is Oct. 9, and the mail deadline is Oct. 11.
  • South Carolina does not allow same-day voter registration.
  • In order to qualify for an absentee by mail ballot in South Carolina, voters must provide a valid reason they cannot make it to the polls on Election Day. 
  • The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 28. Ballots can be returned in person or by mail. Ballots must be received by Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. 
  • To check the status of your ballot, click here.

Want to learn more about the elections you’ll be voting in this year? Click here to use our Sample Ballot Lookup tool! 

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