Ballotpedia Reports: How hot-button issues affected Nov. 8 school board elections

Welcome to the Thursday, December 8, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

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

  1. In school board elections, conflict issues break along existing party lines, incumbents lose at higher rate
  2. Turnout in the Georgia runoffs was nearly 90% of the general election turnout
  3. Learn about next year’s elections on the latest episode of On the Ballot, our weekly podcast

In school board elections, conflict issues break along existing party lines, incumbents lose at higher rate

Since 2021, we’ve tracked school board elections where candidates took stances on the topics of race in education, COVID-19 responses, and sex and gender.

Our final analysis of the 1,779 seats up for election on Nov. 8 across 545 local school board shows: 

  • Candidates who supported measures like equity plans, mask requirements, and gender inclusion won 40% of these seats
  • Candidates who opposed those policies won 30%
  • Candidates whose stances could not be identified won 27%

Continuing a trend we observed in school board conflict elections in 2021 and earlier in 2022, nearly one-third of incumbents lost to challengers in those races on Nov. 8. In Ballotpedia’s regular school board coverage from 2018 to 2020, 18% of incumbents lost re-election, on average.

We label each winner as either supporting or opposing the three conflict topics. If we cannot determine a stance, we mark the winner unclear. Broadly, we label a candidate supporting if they support things like including the role of race in curricula or learning materials, mask and/or vaccine requirements, or the inclusion of topics in sexual education regarding orientations and gender identities. We label a candidate opposing if they oppose things like critical race theory, mask and/or vaccine requirements, or comprehensive sexual education. In cases where we labeled a winner as supporting on at least one topic and opposing on another, we used the category mixed.  

Candidates supporting things like equity plans and mask requirements won 53% of seats in counties Joe Biden (D) won in 2020, while candidates opposing those policies won 42% of seats in counties Donald Trump (R) won.

Of all 718 winners we labeled supporting, 75% won in counties Biden carried. Of the 539 winners labeled opposing, 60% won in counties Trump carried. 

Learn more about conflicts in school board elections below. 

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Turnout in the Georgia runoff was nearly 90% of the general election turnout

On Dec. 6, incumbent U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) defeated Herschel Walker (R) in the runoff election for U.S. Senate in Georgia. This was the second U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia in as many years. Here’s how turnout compared this year to the U.S. Senate general election and runoff in 2020 and early 2021. 

Roughly 3.5 million people voted in the Dec. 6 runoff, 25% less than the 4.5 million people who voted in the Jan. 5, 2021, runoff.

This year, 44.7% of all registered voters voted in the runoff. That’s 13.5 percentage points less than in 2021, when 58.2% of registered voters cast ballots.

Turnout for this year’s runoff was 89.8% of the Nov. 8 general election turnout, in which 3.9 million Georgians voted. That’s a slight decline from 2021, when runoff turnout was 91.3% of the general election turnout, in which 4.9 million people voted.

More people voted in-person in 2022’s runoff than in 2021. On Dec. 6, 1.6 million people (46% of all votes cast) voted in-person, compared to 1.3 million in 2021 (30% of all votes cast).

Similarly, a smaller share of voters cast ballots early in this year’s runoff than in 2021. Roughly 1.9 million people (54% of all voted cast) voted early this year, while 3.1 million people (71% of all votes cast) voted early in 2021.

The roughly 1.9 million people who voted early in the Dec. 6 runoff includes 1.7 million who voted early in person and over 188,000 who voted absentee by mail. In 2021, early voters included 2.1 million who did so in person and 1.1 million who voted absentee by mail. 

Learn more about the U.S. Senate election in Georgia at the link below.

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Learn about next year’s elections on the latest episode of On the Ballot, our weekly podcast

On the Ballot, our weekly podcast, takes a closer look at the week’s top political stories.

This week’s episode is all about the elections taking place in the first few months of 2023. Host Victoria Rose talks with staff writer Doug Kronaizl about two state legislative elections in Virginia, a mayoral election in Chicago, and an election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

Episodes of On the Ballot come out Thursday afternoons, so if you’re reading this on the morning of Dec. 8, you’ve still got time to subscribe to On the Ballot on your favorite podcast app before this week’s episode drops!   

Click below to listen to older episodes and find links to where you can subscribe. 

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About the author

Samuel Wonacott

Samuel Wonacott is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.