How a congressional resignation rewrote Utah’s election calendar

Welcome to the Tuesday, August 22, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott and Douglas Kronaizl

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

  1. How a congressional resignation rewrote Utah’s election calendar
  2. Ohio could become 24th state to legalize recreational marijuana if voters approve November initiative
  3. Democratic and Republican incumbents tied in primary defeats

How a congressional resignation rewrote Utah’s election calendar

Voters in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District will head to the polls on Sept. 5 and Nov. 21 for a special election. 

But Sept. 5 and Nov. 21—why the strange election dates?

Originally, Utah was set to hold municipal elections this year with primaries on Aug. 15 and a general election on Nov. 7, corresponding with most other states’ general elections.

That changed on June 7, when U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R) officially submitted his resignation letter to Gov. Spencer Cox (R).

Under state law, special congressional elections in Utah must be held at least 90 days after the governor receives a resignation letter and be on the same day as a municipal general election, a presidential primary, a regular primary, or a regular general election.

Under the original calendar, the earliest date to hold the special primary in Utah’s 2nd District would have been Nov. 7, the original municipal general election date, with the special general election on March 5, 2024, Utah’s presidential primary date.

All the while, Stewart’s seat would have remained vacant, leaving the 2nd District without representation and lowering congressional Republicans’ already-narrow majority to 221 members.

Instead, Cox called a special legislative session, where lawmakers adjusted the entire state’s election calendar by setting the Sept. 5 primary, exactly 90 days after Stewart submitted his resignation, and moving the general election back two weeks.

Now that we know why Utah voters will go to the polls two days before Thanksgiving, let’s check in on the race itself.

Becky Edwards, Bruce Hough, and Celeste Maloy are running in the Sept. 5 GOP primary.

The winner of the primary will face state Sen. Kathleen Riebe (D) and five minor party or independent candidates in the general election on Nov. 21.

Media attention has focused on the special Republican primary.

Edwards served in the Utah House from 2009 to 2018. She challenged incumbent U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R) in 2022, placing second in the Republican primary with 30% of the vote.

Hough chaired the Utah Republican Party from 1991 to 1995, and served as a national committeeman with the Republican National Committee.

Maloy was counsel for Stewart’s Washington, D.C., office from 2019 to 2023, before which she was a deputy county attorney in Washington County, Utah.

Three race forecasters rated the 2nd District as Solid Republican in 2022, when Stewart defeated Nick Mitchell, 60% to 34%.

Political consultant LaVarr Webb wrote, “They’re all mainstream Republicans and reflect the views of most Utah voters.”

The Associated Press’s Sam Metz wrote that one animating issue in the race was the indictments of former President Donald Trump (R), saying, “[S]uch questions could prove to be a harbinger for candidates running up and down next year’s Republican ticket, who are attempting to thread fine lines between espousing law and order and alienating Trump’s devoted backers.”

Hough said, “If we’re not doing due process, then we are really messing up our duty as citizens to hold the government accountable.”

Maloy said, “We look like a third-world country when we investigate people who lose elections … We’re alienating people … because it looks politically motivated.”

Ballotpedia has not identified any statements Edwards has made in response to Trump’s indictments. Edwards said she voted for Joe Biden (D) in 2020 but now regrets the decision, saying she wants “someone in the White House who’s able to stand up to the extremes in both parties.”

The special election in Utah’s 2nd District is the fourth special election called for the current Congress.

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Ohio could become 24th state to legalize recreational marijuana if voters approve November initiative

Ohio could become the 24th state to legalize recreational marijuana if voters approve an upcoming initiative on Nov. 7.

On Aug. 16, Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) announced that the measure qualified for the ballot after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted more than the required number of valid signatures.

The coalition originally submitted 222,198 signatures on July 5. The initiative needed 124,046 valid signatures to qualify. After vetting the signatures, election officials found that the coalition was short 679. Proponents were given 10 days to submit an additional round of signatures, which they did on Aug. 3.

If approved, Ohio would also become the most populous state with a Republican trifecta to legalize recreational marijuana.

Every state with a Democratic trifecta has legalized recreational marijuana except for Hawaii. Nine of these states did so using ballot measures, and seven did so through legislation.

Montana and Missouri are the only states with Republican trifectas that have legalized recreational marijuana, both of which did so using ballot measures. But, in addition to Ohio, there are pending legalization ballot measures in Florida and Nebraska, aiming for the 2024 ballot.

Five of the 11 states with divided governments have legalized recreational marijuana. Three used ballot measures, and two used legislation.

The most recent states to legalize recreational marijuana are Delaware and Minnesota, which enacted legislation in 2023. 

Maryland and Missouri are the most recent to do so using ballot measures. In 2022, voters in these states approved recreational marijuana initiatives with 67% and 53% of the vote, respectively.

During the same election, voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota rejected legalization initiatives, with 56%, 55%, and 53% voting against the respective proposals. South Dakota previously legalized recreational marijuana in 2020, but the state supreme court found the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule.

The most recent state to vote on a legalization initiative was Oklahoma, which did so earlier this year. Voters rejected that measure 62% to 38%.

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Democratic and Republican incumbents tied in state legislative primary defeats

Mississippi is holding state legislative primary runoffs next week. Let’s check on the status of incumbent performance so far this year. 

Twelve state legislative incumbents—six Democrats and six Republicans—have lost in primaries this year.

Across the three states that have held primaries, 3.5% of incumbents running for re-election have lost, down slightly from the 3.9% loss rate in 2021 and the 4.3% rate in 2019, the last time all three states held elections.

These totals include data from Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia. Here’s a breakdown from each state:

  • Mississippi: four Republicans and one Democrat lost;
  • New Jersey: one Democrat lost; and,
  • Virginia: four Democrats and two Republicans lost.

Democratic incumbents have lost at a higher rate than Republicans. Of the 150 Democratic incumbents running for re-election, six (4.0%) lost to primary challengers. For Republicans, six of the 187 running for re-election (3.2%) lost.

Three of these 12 incumbent losses (25%) were guaranteed due to redistricting. When states redraw legislative lines, incumbents can end up in a new district with each other, leading to incumbent v. incumbent primaries or general elections. In these races, at least one incumbent must lose.

These figures could still increase. In Mississippi, two Republican incumbents advanced to primary runoffs on Aug. 29. Louisiana will hold its primaries on Oct. 14.

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