Previewing Thursday’s special election primaries to fill vacancies created after state lawmakers were expelled

Welcome to the Monday, June 12, Brew. 

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

  1. A preview of Thursday’s special election primaries to fill vacancies created after state lawmakers were expelled
  2. Partisan count: 54.94% of state legislators were Republican and 43.33% were Democratic at the end of May
  3. States continue to outpace 2022 in enacting election-related legislation

A preview of Thursday’s special election primaries to fill vacancies created after state lawmakers were expelled

Welcome back! We hope you enjoyed your weekend. Let’s start the week in Tennessee, where two special elections are helping push the state total to a decade high.

Tennessee is holding special primaries for state House Districts 52 and 86 on Thursday. The winners will advance to a special election set for Aug. 3. Both of those districts became vacant on April 6, when Reps. Justin Jones (D-52) and Justin Pearson (D-86) were expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives. The House passed resolutions to expel the legislators after they took part in protests on the House floor. The resolutions stated they had engaged in disorderly behavior. 

The expulsions of Jones and Pearson are two of 79 cases of state legislative expulsions Ballotpedia identified between 1813 and 2023. Click here to read more.

Both Jones and Pearson were later reinstated on an interim basis. On April 10, the Metropolitan Nashville Council reinstated Jones, and two days later, on April 12, the Shelby County Commission reinstated Pearson. 

Vacancies in the Tennessee General Assembly are filled in one of two ways. If fewer than twelve months remain before the next general election, members of the legislative body in the county where the vacancy occurred must choose a replacement. 

When twelve months or more remain before the next general election, a special election must be held to fill the remaining term. The legislative body may also appoint an interim replacement who serves until the next election, as it happened with Jones and Pearson.

Jones is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for District 52. The only candidate running in the Republican primary is Laura Nelson. 

In District 86, Pearson is facing David Page in the Democratic primary. The winner will face Independent Jeff Johnston in the special general election. No Republican is running. 

This is the second special election Pearson will run in this year. On Jan. 24, Pearson was appointed to replace Rep. Barbara Cooper (D), who died in October 2022. Pearson served in an acting capacity until March 14, when he won a special election to complete Cooper’s term. 

A fourth special election—this one to replace Rep. Scotty Campbell (R)—is also scheduled for Aug. 3, with the primary set for next Thursday, June 22. Campbell resigned on April 20 after an ethics investigation concluded that he had violated workplace discrimination and harassment policies.

This year’s four special elections in Tennessee are already the most since 2010. No special elections took place in 2022, and only one did in 2021. Before this year, the most special elections in the state occurred in 2011 and 2019, with three special elections held each year. 

Nationally, thirty-eight special elections for state legislative seats have been called in 14 states so far in 2023. Georgia and Pennsylvania have scheduled the most state legislative special elections this year, with six each. These two states also held the most special elections from 2010 to 2022. Georgia held the most in that time, with 73, and Pennsylvania held 58. 

Thirty of 38 special elections have already taken place, with one district—Virginia SD 7—changing partisan control from Republican to Democratic. In 2022, two seats changed partisan control, and in 2021, six did.

 Special elections for state legislative positions have been called for the following reasons in 2023:

  • 7 due to appointment, election, or the seeking of election to another position
  • 22 due to resignation
  • 7 due to the death of the incumbent
  • 2 (in Tennessee) due to removal from office 

Looking further back, 872 special elections for state legislative seats took place between 2011 and 2022. That’s an average of 73 special elections per year. The most special elections in a single year during that same time frame was 99 in 2018. 

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Partisan count: 54.94% of state legislators were Republican and 43.33% were Democratic at the end of May

While we’re on state legislatures, let’s take a look at Ballotpedia’s latest partisan count of state legislators.

At the end of May 2023, 54.94% of all state legislators in the United States were Republicans while 44.33% were Democrats. There are 7,386 state legislative seats in the country.

Broken down by chamber, Democrats held 854 state Senate seats and 2,420 state House seats, losing one House seat and one Senate seat since the previous month. Republicans held 1,111 state Senate seats and 2,947 state House seats, gaining three House seats since the previous month.

Minor party legislators held 26 seats across 10 states, including 21 state House seats and five state Senate seats. There were 25 vacant state House seats and 3 vacant state Senate seats across 18 states.

Republicans have majorities in 56 chambers, while Democrats hold 41. The Alaska Senate and House of Representatives are the only chambers organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition.

The partisan count at the end of May was similar to the count at this point in 2022, when 54.33% of all state legislators were Republicans and 44.39% were Democrats. 

The partisan balance of state legislators has fluctuated throughout the decades since 1920. Democrats controlled the most state legislative seats for an extended period of time between the 1950s and the early 2000s, reaching a peak of 67% of all state legislative seats in 1977. Republicans reached their peak (within this timespan) in 1921, when they controlled 62% of all state legislative seats. Republicans have held more state legislative seats than Democrats since 2011. 

Click the link below to learn more. 

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States continue to outpace 2022 in enacting election-related legislation 

Let’s finish with our weekly update on election-related legislation. As of June 8, legislators across the country have enacted 182 election-related bills this year, 21 more than the 161 bills states had enacted at this point in 2022.

Tennessee has enacted the most bills this year (17). In 2022, Tennessee had also enacted the most bills at this point (16).

Texas legislators, meanwhile, have introduced the most election-related bills in 2023 (394). Texas holds legislative sessions in odd years only, and so had no activity in 2022. New York was the most active state at this point in 2022 with 417 bills introduced.

Of this year’s 182 enacted bills, Republicans sponsored 114, or 63%, up from 52% of the total enacted at this point last year. Democrats sponsored 18%, down from 22% in 2022. Bills with bipartisan sponsorship make up 11% of the total enacted, down from 19% last year. Those with unclear partisan sponsorship are up to 9% from 8% in 2022. To see all bills approved this year, click here