The most-populous city with a Republican mayor goes to the polls tomorrow

Welcome to the Monday, March 20, Brew. 

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

  1. A preview of Jacksonville’s March 21 mayoral election
  2. Arkansas increases the signature distribution requirement for citizen initiatives  
  3. There have been eight state supreme court vacancy announcements since the beginning of the year

A preview of Jacksonville’s March 21 mayoral election

Tomorrow, voters in Jacksonville, Fla., will go to the polls to select a new mayor. Jacksonville is the most populous American city with a Republican mayor. Incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry (R) is term-limited.

Eight candidates are running. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will occur on May 16. 

All candidates run in the general election regardless of party affiliation. Donna Deegan (D), Audrey Gibson (D), LeAnna Cumber (R), Daniel Davis (R), and Al Ferraro (R) have led the field in media coverage and fundraising. 

The Florida Times-Union’s Nate Monroe wrote that Jacksonville’s mayoral election system is “a recipe that complicates conventional electoral math and can lead to surprises, and it makes larger fields with multiple viable candidates, as this year appears to feature, difficult to handicap.”

Deegan and Gibson are the only two Democrats running. Deegan is a philanthropist, author, and local television news anchor. Click here to read Deegan’s responses to Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Gibson represented Jacksonville in the Florida Senate from 2016 to 2022, after serving in the Florida House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010. 

Cumber, Davis, and Ferarro represent three of the four Republicans running. Cumber is a business owner and member of the Jacksonville City Council, representing District 5. Davis is the chief executive officer of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and a former member of the Florida House of Representatives. Ferraro is a business owner and member of the Jacksonville City Council, representing District 2.

Frank Keasler (R), Omega Allen (I), and write-in candidate Brian Griffin (I) are also running. Keasler and Griffin completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. 

Jacksonville has had a Republican mayor since Curry was first elected in 2015. That year, Curry defeated then-incumbent Alvin Brown (D) 51% to 49% in the runoff election. The 2019 mayoral election was decided in the March general election, with Curry receiving 58% of the vote over Anna Lopez Brosche’s (R) 24%, Omega Allen’s (I) 11%, and Jimmy Hill’s (R) 8%.

The current partisan breakdown of the mayors of the 100 largest U.S. cities is 62 Democrats, 26 Republicans, three independents, and seven nonpartisans. Two mayors’ partisan affiliations are unknown. Based on 2020 population estimates of the top 100 cities, 76.1% live under Democratic mayors, and 16.2% live under Republican mayors.

We’re covering 40 mayoral elections in the country’s top 100 largest cities this year, with at least one being held every month except for January and July.

Click below to read more about Jacksonville’s mayoral election. 

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Arkansas increases the signature distribution requirement for citizen initiatives 

On March 7, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed House Bill 1419 (HB 1419), which increases the signature distribution requirement for citizen initiatives. 

Under HB 1419, campaigns will be required to collect signatures from 50 of 75 (67%) counties. Previously, the requirement was 15 of 75 (20%) counties. For citizen-initiated state statutes, the signature requirement is equal to 4% of the votes cast for governor in each of at least 50 of 75 counties. For citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, the requirement is equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor in these counties.

The House approved the bill 79-19 and the Senate approved it 21-8. Republicans hold a 82-18 majority in the House and a 29-6 majority in the Senate.

State Sen. Jim Dotson (R-34), a co-sponsor of the bill, said,  “The purpose of this would be to ensure that we’re getting representation from all across the state, not just large urban areas but rural counties as well, and having a lot of input into the process.” State Sen. Greg Leding (D-30), an opponent, said, “The voters have made it absolutely clear that they do not want the Legislature making it harder for them to get things on the ballot, and I think we should listen to them.”

State Sen. Bryan King (D-28) and the League of Women Voters of Arkansas sued Secretary of State John Thurston (R), asking the 6th Judicial Circuit Court to rule HB 1419 unconstitutional. Plaintiffs noted that Article V of the Arkansas Constitution establishes the 15-of-75 counties requirement, while HB 1419 is a statute. According to the plaintiffs, this means that HB 1419 is effectively modifying the state constitution, which a bill cannot do. Amending the constitution would require voter approval.

Of the 26 states that have initiatives or referenda, Arkansas is one of 16 with a signature distribution requirement. The other 10 states do not have distribution requirements. Arkansas’ new requirement that signatures come from 67% of counties means it is tied with Wyoming as the state with the sixth largest distribution requirement for initiated statutes and 7th for initiated constitutional amendments. Previously, Arkansas’ 20% requirement was the second smallest, just behind Maryland (8% of counties).  

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There have been eight state supreme court vacancy announcements since the beginning of 2023

We’ve written a lot about state supreme courts over the last few months, with much of our coverage focused on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election—the most expensive judicial election in U.S. history. That election—one of our top 15 political stories to watch this year—will be decided on April 4.

States have different methods for choosing their supreme court justices. Wisconsin, for example, is one of 13 states that use nonpartisan elections. States also have separate processes for filling vacancies that occur when a justice resigns early, reaches mandatory retirement age, dies, or moves to a new court. 

As of March 14, there have been eight such vacancies or vacancy announcements since the beginning of the year for judges whose replacements are chosen via appointment instead of election. In all eight cases, the governor will appoint the replacement. 

  • Alaska, California, North Dakota, and Tennessee each have one state supreme court vacancy. Alaska, North Dakota, and Tennessee have Republican governors, while California has a Democratic governor. 
  • Delaware and Missouri each have two state supreme court vacancies. Delaware has a Democratic governor, while Missouri has a Republican governor. 

Two judges stepped down after being appointed to different offices. The remaining six judges retired or plan to retire in 2023. Two vacancies have been filled, and two appointments have been made but the replacement judges have not yet taken office. The remaining four vacancies have not yet been filled.

From 2019 to 2022, there were 89 state supreme vacancies for judges whose replacements are chosen via appointment instead of election. The vacancies were created when five judges were appointed to different offices, 79 judges retired, four judges died, and one judge lost a retention election. During those years, 37 vacancies were filled by a Democratic governor, 48 vacancies were filled by a Republican governor or Republican-controlled state legislature, and four vacancies were filled by a nonpartisan state supreme court.

States use different methods for filing state supreme court vacancies: 

  • 18 states fill vacancies on the state supreme court through direct gubernatorial appointment.
  • 28 states fill vacancies through a gubernatorial appointment with assistance from a nominating commission.
  • Two states (South Carolina and Virginia) fill vacancies through legislative appointments.
  • In Illinois, the state supreme court nominates a replacement justice.
  • In Louisiana, voters elect a replacement in a special election.

In 2020, we released Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship, a study to discern the partisan balance on each of the country’s 52 courts of last resort. Of the 341 justices we studied, 52.5% recorded Republican Confidence Scores, 33.1% recorded Democratic Confidence Scores, and 14.4% recorded Indeterminate Confidence Scores. Click here to read that study.

Click below to read more about state supreme court vacancies in 2023. 

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