Catch up on results from one of the biggest election days of 2023

Welcome to the Thursday, April 6, Brew. 

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

  1. Johnson defeats Vallas in Chicago’s mayoral election runoff
  2. Wisconsin Supreme Court to change from a 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 liberal one
  3. Daniel Knold wins special election in WI-08, giving Republicans a supermajority in the state senate
  4. Three incumbents lose in first general election for downsized St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen
  5. Denver mayoral election likely headed to a June runoff
  6. Incumbent president wins in Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education election

As hard as it is to believe, the biggest day in the Spring 2023 election calendar has come and gone. Voters in eight states we cover – Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin – went to the polls on Tuesday and cast their ballots for offices ranging from city mayor to state supreme court.

Here are the six stories to catch you up! And if you want to read about all the other April 4 races we covered, click here.  

Brandon Johnson defeats Vallas in Chicago’s mayoral election runoff

Let’s start in Chicago, where Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson defeated former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas in the general election runoff for city mayor. With 99% of precincts reporting, Johnson had received 51.4% of the vote to Vallas’ 48.6%.

Johnson’s margin of victory over Vallas was 2.9%, the closest margin of victory in a Chicago mayoral runoff election so far. In the 2019 mayoral runoff, Lori Lightfoot’s margin of victory over Toni Preckwinkle was 47.4%. In 2015, incumbent Rahm Emmanuel’s margin of victory over Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was 12.5%.

Turnout in the general election was similar to turnout in the primary. According to unofficial results, turnout in Tuesday’s election stood at 35.1%, slightly lower than the 35.7% primary turnout, although the final tally is expected to rise as mail-in ballots come in.

General election turnout this year was slightly higher than in 2019 when it stood at 32.9%, but lower than in 2017, when it was nearly 41%. 

Addressing supporters on Tuesday night, Johnson said, “Today, Chicago has spoken. Chicago has said yes to hope; yes to investment in people; yes to housing the unhoused, and yes to supporting young people with fully-funded schools. It is a new day in our city.”

In his concession speech, Vallas said, “I ran for mayor to bring this city together, and it’s clear from this result tonight that this city is deeply divided. … It’s critically important that we use this opportunity to come together. I’ve offered [Johnson] my full support in this transition. I look forward to working with him and providing him with the support he needs to be successful.”

Johnson will succeed incumbent mayor Lori Lightfoot, who finished third behind Vallas and Johnson in the Feb. 28 primary and did not advance to the general election. Lightfoot was the first incumbent to lose re-election in 34 years.  

Chicago’s elections are officially nonpartisan, but candidates are typically affiliated with one of the major political parties. Johnson and Vallas are both Democrats. 

Johnson had the endorsements of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), among others. Vallas’ endorsers included the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.), and former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. 

Johnson will be sworn in on May 15. 

Elsewhere in Illinois, city treasurer Misty Buscher defeated incumbent Jim Langfelder in the general election for mayor in the state capital of Springfield. 

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Wisconsin Supreme Court to change from a 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 liberal one

Let’s now turn to Wisconsin, where Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated former Justice Daniel Kelly in the general election for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Protasiwicz’s win means the balance of the court will change from a 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 liberal majority for the first time in 15 years. 

With more than 95% of precincts reporting, Protasiewicz had 55.5% of the vote to Daniel Kelly’s 44.5%, a margin of victory of 11%. Protasiewicz’s margin of victory on Tuesday is the highest since 2018, when liberal candidate Rebecca Dallet defeated conservative candidate Michael Screnock 55.8% to 44.2%, a margin of victory of 11.5%.

Turnout in the general election was 39.3% of the voting population age, the highest turnout ever for a state supreme court election not coinciding with a presidential primary. The previous record, set in 2011, was 34%. 

When including supreme court elections that coincided with presidential primaries, turnout in Tuesday’s election was behind only the 2016 election. Turnout in that election was nearly 44% of the voting population age. 

More than 1.8 million voters cast their ballots on Tuesday. That’s higher than the 1.6 million votes cast in 2020, when the supreme court election coincided with the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but lower than the nearly 2 million votes cast in 2016, when the election coincided with the 2016 Democratic and Republican primaries. 

Protasiewicz’s share of the vote in the general election was close to the combined share of the vote liberal candidates received in the Feb. 21 primary. Together, Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell—the other liberal candidate in the race—received 53.9% of the vote in the primary, while Protasiewicz received 55.5% vote share in the general election. Kelly and Jennifer Dorow—the other conservative in the race—received a combined 46.1% of the vote in the primary, while Kelly received 44% in the general election. 

As regular readers of the Brew know by now, Wisconsin’s supreme court elections are officially nonpartisan, but justices and candidates are often considered to be liberal or conservative. With Justice Patience Roggensack—a member of the court’s conservative majority—retiring, the general election determined the ideological control of the court.

According to CBS News Sarah Ewall-Wice, “The race had garnered national attention because of its potential implications for an array of issues, including abortion and voting rights, as well as the 2024 presidential election.”

After the results were announced, Protasiewicz said, “Our state is taking a step forward to a better and brighter future where our rights and freedoms will be protected. … And while there is still work to be done, tonight we celebrate this historic victory that has obviously reignited hope in so many of us.”

In his concession speech, Kelly said, “I respect the decision that the people of Wisconsin have made. … But I think this does not end well.”

The race between Protasiewicz and Kelly also set a new record for campaign spending in state judicial elections. According to WisPolitics, more than $44 million had been spent in the race as of March 30, three times the $15 million spent in the previous record holder, a 2004 Illinois Supreme Court race.

Wisconsin voters also approved three ballot questions, including two constitutional amendments related to cash bail and an advisory question related to work requirements for welfare benefits. The third measure was an advisory question asking voters whether able-bodied childless adults should have to apply for work before receiving welfare benefits. With 67% of precincts reporting, all three measures received more than 66% of the vote in favor.

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Daniel Knold wins special election in WI-08, giving Republicans a supermajority in the state senate

Elsewhere in Wisconsin, State Rep. Daniel Knodl (R) defeated environmental lawyer Jodi Habush Sinykin (D) in the special general election for Wisconsin State Senate District 8. With more than 95% of precincts reporting, Knodl had 50.9% of the vote, and Sinykin had 49.1%. 

The results mean Republicans will regain the supermajority in the chamber they acquired following the Nov. 8, 2022, elections. 

Former senator Alberta Darling (R) represented the district since 1992. Her Dec. 1, 2022, retirement reduced Senate Republicans’ 22-member supermajority to a 21-member majority. 

A party with a supermajority in the senate would have the votes necessary to suspend chamber rules, speed up the legislative process, and hold impeachment trials of state officials. In order to override a governor’s veto, however, a party would need a supermajority in the Assembly as well. Currently, Republicans have a 64-35 majority in the Assembly, two votes shy of a supermajority. 

Wisconsin has a divided government, meaning Republicans control the legislature, while Tony Evers (D) holds the governorship.

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Three incumbents lose in first general election for downsized St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen

In Missouri, voters cast their ballots in the general election for St. Louis’s downsized Board of Aldermen, the city’s equivalent of a city council. Eleven incumbents, including Board President Megan Ellyia Green, were re-elected. Three incumbents were defeated.

The election was the first to take place under a new ward system that reduced the number of seats on the board from 28 to 14. Voters approved Proposition R, a charter amendment requiring the size reduction, in 2012, and the board enacted a new 14-ward map in 2021.

Ahead of the election, KDSK’s Sam Clancy and Mark Maxwell wrote, “For more than a century, 28 members of the Board of Aldermen governed the City of St. Louis. Those days are almost over.”

“Ward reduction changes have been in the making for more than a decade after voters approved the plan back in 2012. “Aldergeddon” has already claimed casualties. A handful of incumbents opted not to seek re-election, shying away from a sharp-elbowed brawl against their colleagues to prolong their political career and others were defeated in the primary,” Clancy and Maxwell said.

As a result of the reduction in board size, 10 incumbents did not seek re-election. Additionally, two wards—Ward 13 and Ward 4—featured incumbent vs. incumbent races.

The three incumbents who lost on Tuesday night were: 

  • Bret Narayan (the incumbent in Ward 24): Narayan to fellow incumbent Joe Vaccaro (Ward 23) 54% to 46%.
  • Norma Walker (Ward 22): Walker lost to incumbent Pamela Boyd (Ward 27) 54% to 46%.
  • Tina Pihl (Ward 9): Pihl lost to Washington University staffer Michael Browning 63% to 36%. 

Board members typically serve staggered four-year terms, but because of the charter change, every member had to stand for re-election this year. Winners in odd-numbered wards will serve initial two-year terms. Those in even-numbered wards and the board president will serve a regular four-year term.

Another initiative affecting the 2023 election was Proposition D, approved by voters in 2020. The measure made elections open and nonpartisan for the offices of mayor, comptroller, president of the Board of Aldermen, and the Board of Aldermen. The measure also changed the primary election system from plurality voting to approval voting, a voting system in which voters may vote for any number of candidates they choose. Nonpartisan primaries were held on March 7, 2023, and the top two candidates in each primary advanced to a general election.

St. Louis also held a nonpartisan general election for a seat on the community college board on April 4, 2023. Nicole Robinson defeated incumbent Pam Ross in that election.

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Denver mayoral election likely headed to June runoff

In Colorado, preliminary results in the Denver mayoral election indicated the race was headed to a summer runoff. 

With 61% of the vote counted, Michael Johnston led the 22-candidate field with 24% of the vote. Johnston was followed by Kelly Brough, who had 22.2% of the vote, and Lisa Calderón, who had 15%. 

Colorado conducts what are commonly referred to as all-mail elections. Voting is conducted primarily, although not necessarily exclusively, by mail.

If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the top-two vote-getters will advance to a runoff on June 6, 2023.

While the general election was nonpartisan, Johnston, Brough, and Calderón are Democrats. 

The Associated Press’ Jesse Bedayn wrote, “If early results hold, Kelly Brough, the former president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Mike Johnston, a former state senator, could be pushed to a runoff election. They would leave behind the more progressive candidates in a largely left-leaning field.”

“While the election is officially nonpartisan, the more progressive candidates include Leslie Herod, a Democratic state representative, and Lisa Calderón, the executive director of Emerge Colorado, which supports women’s campaigns for public office,” Bedayn wrote. 

Incumbent Michael Hancock, first elected in 2011, was term-limited. This was Denver’s fifth open mayoral election since 1959.

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Incumbent president wins in Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education District 1 election

To round up our list of key races, let’s go to Oklahoma, where incumbent Stacey Woolley defeated Jared Buswell 68% to 32% in the general election for Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education District 1. 

Woolley, the board’s current president, was first elected in 2019. She had the endorsements of state Rep. John Waldron (D), former Oklahoma state Rep. Karen Gaddis (D), and the Tulsa World, among others. 

Buswell is the board chair of Favor International, a $7 million African education nonprofit. His endorsers included U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern (R), Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell (R), and the Tulsa County Republican Party. Buswell completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Click here to read his answers

District 1 has the largest population of registered voters in the state (143,803). It’s also one of 29 of the state’s roughly 500 school districts where a majority or plurality of voters are registered Democrats. A total of 43% of voters in the district are Democrats, 35% are Republicans, 21% are independents, and 1% are Libertarians. 

Members of the Tulsa Public Schools school board are elected to four-year terms. Either one seat or two seats are up for election each year.

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