Partisan control of most of the country’s largest cities’ mayorships remains unchanged

Welcome to the Tuesday, November 22, Brew. 

By: Douglas Kronaizl

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

  1. At least one big city mayor’s office changed partisan hands on Nov. 8
  2. Where things stand with ranked-choice voting
  3. Here come the 2023 filing deadlines!

At least one big city mayor’s office changed partisan hands on Nov. 8

Sixteen of the 100 most populous cities held general elections for mayor on Nov. 8, and in at least one of them, partisan control of the office changed.

In North Las Vegas, Nev., Pamela Goynes-Brown (D) was elected mayor, succeeding outgoing Mayor John J. Lee (R). Lee was a Democrat when he first assumed office in 2013 but switched parties in 2021.

In the remaining nine called races, mayoral partisan affiliations are unchanged. Democrats held onto six offices, Republicans retained one, and nonpartisan incumbents were re-elected in two.

Overall, Democrats controlled 62 of the mayorships in the 100 largest cities heading into the general election, Republicans controlled 25, and independent or nonpartisan officeholders controlled 11. The mayorship in Anaheim, Calif., was vacant and Ballotpedia could not determine an affiliation for the mayor of Arlington, Texas.

With the Democratic pick-up in North Las Vegas, the party currently has a net gain of one mayorship in the most populous 100 cities, while Republicans have a net loss of one.

Six elections remain uncalled. Two races in Texas are heading to December runoffs and four races in California remain too close to call.

  • Austin, Texas: state Rep. Celia Israel (D) and former state Sen. Kirk Watson (D) advanced to a Dec. 13 runoff after receiving 40% and 35% of the vote, respectively. Regardless of the outcome, this race will not affect Austin’s partisan control as either winner will succeed Mayor Stephen Adler (D).
  • Anaheim, Calif.: this mayorship is currently vacant. Former Mayor Harry Sidhu (R) resigned earlier this year amid an FBI investigation. Mayor Pro Tempore Trevor O’Neil (R) assumed an acting mayor role and ran for the top spot. Ashleigh Aitken (D), who placed second in the 2018 mayoral election, currently leads with 43% of the vote followed by O’Neil with 35%.
  • Chula Vista, Calif.: City Councilman John McCann (R) currently leads Ammar Campa-Najjar (D), 52% to 48%. Incumbent Mayor Mary Salas (D) was term-limited.
  • Irvine, Calif.: Incumbent Mayor Farrah Khan (D) currently leads former Community Services Commissioner Branda Lin, 38% to 28%. Ballotpedia has not identified Lin’s partisan affiliation.
  • Laredo, Texas: City Councilman Mercurio Martinez and Victor Treviño advanced to a Dec. 13 runoff after receiving 22% and 21% of the vote, respectively. Mayor Peter Saenz (I) was term-limited. It is unclear whether this race will affect Laredo’s partisan control since the partisan affiliations of the runoff candidates are not yet known.
  • Oakland, Calif.: City Councilman Loren Taylor (D) currently leads City Councilwoman Sheng Thao (D), 33% to 32%. Since the leading candidates and term-limited Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) are all Democrats, it is unlikely this race will change partisan control of the city’s mayorship.

In addition to the 16 elections held on Nov. 8, there were eight others that took place earlier this year, resulting in one partisan change. Republicans gained the mayorship in Henderson, Nev., after Michelle Romero (R) won election to the open position, succeeding Debra March (D).

The chart below shows partisan affiliations over time. Democrats’ peak was at the start of 2016, with 67 mayorships. Republicans’ peak was at the start of 2019 with 30.

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Where things stand with ranked-choice voting

On Nov. 8, voters in Nevada and nine municipalities decided on ranked-choice voting ballot measures. Here are the results:

In Nevada, voters approved Question 3 with 53% of the vote. This measure would establish an open, top-five primary where every candidate appears on the same primary ballot and the top-five finishers advance to the general election in congressional and state elections. Question 3 would also institute ranked-choice voting in the general election.

Even though voters approved Question 3, that was just the first step. Since this was an initiated constitutional amendment, voters need to approve it again in 2024 in order for it to go into effect in 2026.

Both Alaska and Maine currently use ranked-choice voting, which voters approved in 2020 and 2016, respectively. Hawaii enacted ranked-choice voting for federal special elections that do not coincide with regularly-scheduled elections and also for special elections to fill county council vacancies.

Voters also approved ranked-choice voting measures in six localities: Evanston, Ill.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Ojai, Calif.; Portland, Maine; Multnomah County, Ore.; and Portland, Ore.

These municipalities and counties will use ranked-choice voting for city council members and other local offices, like the mayor, depending on the specifics of the measure.

Meanwhile, voters defeated ranked-choice voting measures in Washington’s Clark and San Juan Counties.

One measure remains too close to call. In Seattle, voters were posed with two questions. The first was whether to change the city’s election procedures. If voters approved a change, the second question determined what those procedures would become.

On the second question, voters decided that, if a change were approved, the city would adopt ranked-choice voting. But as of Nov. 21, the results for the first question, whether to change at all, remained too close to call with 50.4% in favor and 49.7% opposed.

Cities that currently use ranked-choice voting include New York City, San Francisco, and Minneapolis.

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Here come the 2023 filing deadlines!

The dust has not yet settled on the 2022 elections, but candidates in Chicago are getting ready for the next round of elections.

The filing deadline for Chicago’s upcoming 2023 municipal elections is Nov. 28 – that’s right, in less than one week. Voters in the country’s third-largest city will elect the following positions:

  • Mayor: incumbent Lori Lightfoot (D) was first elected in 2019 in the city’s fourth open mayoral race in a century. Lightfoot is running for a second term.
  • Aldermanic council: this is Chicago’s version of a city council, the city’s legislative branch. All 50 spots are up for election.
  • Clerk: this official retains city records and documents. Incumbent Anna Valencia (D), first appointed in 2017, is running for a second full term.
  • Treasurer: this official manages the city’s cash, investments, and employee pension funds. Incumbent Melissa Conyears-Ervin (D) is eligible to run for re-election to a second term.
  • Police district council: this is a newly-created office. Voters in each of the city’s 22 police department districts will elect three members for a total of 66 council members. According to the city’s website, responsibilities include building connections between police and the community, accepting public input on policing policies, and developing and expanding restorative justice programs.

The election is Feb. 28, 2023.

Chicago’s municipal elections are officially nonpartisan, meaning all candidates’ names appear on the same ballot without party labels. But local parties and other partisan organizations tend to endorse or support specific candidates while campaigning.

For every office apart from the police district council, a candidate must receive at least 50% of the vote on Feb. 28 to win outright, otherwise, the top-two finishers will advance to an April 4 runoff.

For the police district council, the top-three finishers win in each district. There are no runoffs for this office.

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