Percentage of open seats in state executive and legislative elections at decade-high

Welcome to the Friday, July 21, Brew. 

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

  1. Odd-year open seat rate currently at a decade-high with further increases likely
  2. Ohio Proposal 1 is one of five bills or resolutions passed in 2023 that could make the initiative process more difficult
  3. #FridayTrivia: Which vice-president is tied with Kamala Harris in having issued the most tie-breaking votes in U.S. history? 

Percentage of state-level races with no incumbent currently at a decade-high with further increases likely

The percentage of open legislative districts and statewide offices in elections this year is at a decade-high of 22%, according to our annual analysis of primary competitiveness. This year’s numbers are also likely to increase because the filing deadline for Louisiana’s October primaries is Aug. 10.  

For elections in odd-numbered years since 2011, an average of 16% of state executive offices and legislative seats have been open, meaning the incumbent did not run for re-election.  

Every year, we use candidate filing information to record the number and percentage of open legislative districts and statewide offices, contested primaries (primaries with more than one candidate), and incumbents in contested primaries at every level of government.

While the percentage of open races is currently sitting at a decade-high, the other two metrics are right around average compared to overall totals since 2011, though they will also likely increase.

Five states are holding state executive or legislative elections this year: 

  • Louisiana and Mississippi are holding executive and legislative elections
  • New Jersey and Virginia are holding legislative elections
  • Kentucky is holding executive elections 

It is likely that the open districts and offices rate will increase given that Louisiana’s open rate since 2011 ranged from a low of 24% in 2011 to a high of 40% in 2019. Already, there are 26 term-limited incumbents—four state executives and 22 legislators—creating a base open districts and offices rate of 16%.

Use the link below to explore the data we’ve gathered this year, as well as historical data going back to 2011. We update each state’s figures throughout the year: after the filing deadline, after the primary, and after the general election.

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Ohio Issue 1 is one of five bills or resolutions passed in 2023 that could make the initiative process more difficult 

Lately, we’ve discussed Ohio Issue 1, a constitutional amendment on the Aug. 8 ballot that would make several changes to the state’s citizen-initiated constitutional amendment process (see here and here, for example). Issue 1 would establish a 60% vote threshold (up from a simple majority) and increase the signature distribution requirement. 

The Ohio Legislature referred Issue 1 to the ballot in May. 

Today, we’re going to look at bills or resolutions in other states that would enact changes similar to Issue 1. 

At least five bills passed in 2023 could make ballot measure campaigns more resource-intensive on average—and consequently more difficult. Click here for more on how we evaluate whether a measure would make the initiative process more difficult. 

Of the five bills, three are constitutional amendments, including Ohio Issue 1. While Issue 1 was placed on a special election ballot for Aug. 8, voters will decide on the other two amendments at the general election in November 2024. 

  • In Arizona, the Legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 1015, a constitutional amendment to create a signature distribution requirement for citizen initiatives. Currently, Arizona does not have a signature distribution requirement. The ballot measure would require signatures from each of the state’s 30 legislative districts. SCR 1015 passed with unanimous support from Republicans and unanimous opposition from legislative Democrats. 
  • In North Dakota, the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment, Senate Concurrent Resolution 4013, to establish a single-subject rule for initiatives, increase the signature requirement for initiated constitutional amendments from 4% to 5% of the state’s population, and require that voters approve initiated constitutional amendments at two elections. SCR 4013 received support from 20% of Democrats and 93% of legislative Republicans.

The two other changes that could make initiative processes more difficult are Arkansas House Bill 1419 and Montana Senate Bill 93. Those were not constitutional amendments and did not require voter approval.  

  • Arkansas HB 1419 increased the signature distribution requirement for initiatives from 15 counties to 50 (of 75) counties. 
  • Montana SB 93 created a $3,700 filing fee for initiatives and prohibited people from proposing initiatives that were substantively the same as measures that had been defeated in the previous four years. 

Here’s the partisan vote difference for the five bills and resolutions that could make initiative processes more difficult:

  • Ohio Issue 1: 95% of Republicans, 0% of Democrats
  • Arizona SCR 1015: 100% of Republicans, 0% of Democrats;
  • North Dakota SCR 4013: 92.7% of Republicans, 20% of Democrats
  • Arkansas HB 1419: 96.2% of Republicans, 0% of Democrats;
  • Montana SB 93: 100% of Republicans, 2.2% of Democrats;

Legislatures have also passed two bills that make the initiative process easier for campaigns this year. One of those changes, Arkansas Senate Bill 377, received unanimous bipartisan support, and the other bill, South Dakota Senate Bill 113, received support from Democrats and most Republicans: 

  1. Arkansas SB 377 criminalizes certain types of interference with initiative petitions and petitioners and requires paid petition blockers, defined as anyone who pays people to interfere with a canvasser’s signature gathering, to register with the state and to undergo criminal history checks.
  2. After the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in SD Voice v. Noem that South Dakota’s initiative signature deadline of one year before the general election was unconstitutional, the South Dakota Legislature passed SB 113, changing the signature deadline to the first Tuesday in May of a general election year.

This year, legislators in 45 states have proposed at least 360 bills concerning ballot measures, initiatives, and recall elections.

Click here to read more about changes to laws governing ballot measures this year.
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#FridayTrivia: Which vice president is tied with Kamala Harris in having issued the most tie-breaking votes in U.S. history? 

In the Wednesday Brew, we wrote about how Vice President Kamala Harris (D) recently cast her 31st tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate—equaling a record set on July 6, 1832. 

In Article I, Section 3, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution, the vice president of the United States also serves as the president of the Senate. In this capacity, the vice president may cast the deciding vote when there is a tie in the Senate. The Senate that Harris presides over is almost evenly split: Democrats and independents who caucus with Democrats hold 51 seats to Republicans’ 49.

Which vice president is tied with Kamala Harris in having issued 31 tie-breaking votes?

  1. Hannibal Hamlin
  2. Dick Cheney
  3. Aaron Burr
  4. John C. Calhoun