Previewing Louisiana’s Secretary of State primary on Oct. 14

Welcome to the Monday, September 11, 2023, Brew. 

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

  1. Previewing Louisiana’s Secretary of State primary on Oct. 14
  2. Florida initiative to prohibit abortion restrictions qualifies for state supreme court review
  3. Twenty-four federal judicial vacancies on the horizon

Previewing Louisiana’s Secretary of State primary on Oct. 14

Back in our Aug. 18 edition, we told you about Louisiana’s Oct. 14 gubernatorial primary. Today, let’s look at another executive office on the ballot that day—Louisiana’s Secretary of State.

Eight candidates are running—two Democrats, five Republicans, and one independent. Incumbent Kyle Ardoin (R), in office since 2018, is not running for re-election.

Under Louisiana’s unique majority-vote system, all candidates appear with party labels on the same primary ballot. If a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, they win outright, and the general election is canceled. Otherwise, the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election on Nov. 18.

In the past 20 years, three elections for secretary of state have advanced to a general election, while four have been decided in the primary.

Of the eight candidates running this year, attorney Gwen Collins-Greenup (D), Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis (R), First Assistant Secretary of State Nancy Landry (R), and state House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R) have led in polling and media attention.

Let’s take a look at what these candidates are saying.

  • Collins-Greenup said she was running “to strengthen our businesses, secure our elections, and protect every eligible Louisiana citizen’s right to vote.”
  • Francis said he decided to run “because of the threat of going back to paper ballots during the election,” which he said some have proposed but election officials do not support.
  • Landry emphasized her experience as First Assistant Secretary of State, saying she had the “critical experience needed for the upcoming elections” and that there was “no time for a Secretary of State who needs on-the-job training.”
  • Schexnayder said Ardoin was “leaving behind one of the most secure and respected election divisions in the country” and he wanted to “build on that success until Louisiana elections are ranked number one in the nation.”

Collins-Greenup and Francis have run for the position before. 

Collins-Greenup first ran in the 2018 special election and later in the 2019 regular election. She advanced to the general election in both years, losing to Ardoin 59-41% both times. Francis ran in the 2006 special election. He did not advance from the primary. 

Arthur Morrell (D), Thomas Kennedy III (R), Brandon Trosclair (R), and Amanda Smith Jennings (Independent) are also running.

Louisiana’s Secretary of State is the state’s chief election officer. According to Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose, the next officeholder “should expect a fairly intense spotlight” since they will be responsible for “replacing the voting machines the state uses, a process current office holder Kyle Ardoin has had to restart twice.”

Ardoin announced he would not run for re-election in April 2023, citing criticism surrounding the replacement of the voting machines and how elections were administered in the state. In a statement, Ardoin said it was “shameful and outright dangerous that a small minority of vocal individuals [had] chosen to denigrate the hard work of [his office’s] election staff and spread unproven falsehoods.”

The last Democrat elected to the office was W. Fox McKeithen in 1987. McKeithen switched parties in 1989 and served in the position as a Republican until his death in office in 2005.

National context 

Forty-seven states have a secretary of state. The position does not exist in Alaska, Hawaii, or Utah. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the office is called the secretary of the commonwealth and differs only in name. 

Voters in 35 states elect the secretary of state, including Louisiana. In the other 12, the governor or the state legislature appoints the secretary.

Kentucky and Mississippi are also holding elections for secretary of state this year. 

In 2022, voters decided control of 35 secretary of state offices. Twenty-seven offices were up for election, and eight offices or bodies responsible for appointing the secretary of state were on the ballot. Partisan control of one elected office—Nevada’s Secretary of State—changed from Republican to Democrat. Democrats also won appointment control over another secretary of state—in Maryland—after winning that state’s gubernatorial election.

As of September 2023, 21 secretaries of state are Democrats, and 26 are Republican.

In the 35 states where voters directly elect the secretary of state, 20 officeholders are Republicans, and 15 are Democrats. Between 1977 and today, Democrats won the most secretary of state offices (25) in 1977 and 1994. Republicans won the most such offices (24) in 2016.  

For more information on the office of Secretary of State, click here. For more information on Louisiana’s Oct. 14 primary, click the link below. 

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Florida initiative to prohibit abortion restrictions qualifies for state supreme court review 

A proposed constitutional amendment in Florida that would prohibit restrictions on abortions before fetal viability has gathered enough signatures to qualify for a state supreme court review.  

The proposed amendment states that “no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.”

In Florida, the state attorney general and state supreme court must review proposed initiatives after proponents collect 25% (222,898 signatures) of the total required signatures. The required signatures for review must come from at least half (14) of the state’s 28 congressional districts. 

On Sept. 1, the Florida Division of Elections announced that Floridians Protecting Freedom, the group sponsoring the initiative, had submitted 297,586 valid signatures, qualifying the initiative for review.

Now that these preliminary signatures have been verified, here’s what happens next: 

  • The secretary of state must submit the proposal to the state attorney general and the Financial Impact Estimating Conference (FIEC) for review. 
  • Within 30 days of receiving the proposal, the state attorney general must petition the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the measure’s compliance with the state’s single-subject rule, the appropriateness of the title and summary, and whether the measure “is facially valid under the United States Constitution.”
  • The initiative’s supporters must collect 891,589 valid signatures by Feb. 1 to qualify the measure for the 2024 ballot. As of Aug. 15, they had collected more than 600,000 raw signatures. Due to Florida’s signature distribution requirement, the signatures supporters collect must equal at least 8% of the last presidential election’s district-wide vote from at least half (14) of the state’s 28 congressional districts.

To learn more about the laws governing the initiative process in Florida, click here.

The effort to put the initiative on the 2024 ballot comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the Heartbeat Protection Act into law earlier this year. That law would prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, generally around six weeks into pregnancy. The implementation of the act is currently on hold while the state supreme court hears a challenge against another recently-enacted law that limits abortion after 15 weeks.

If approved, the new amendment would override statutes like the Heartbeat Protection Act.

Abortion-related policies have been on Florida’s ballot before. In 2012, voters rejected an amendment that would have prohibited the state from spending public funds for abortions or health insurance that includes abortion coverage. The amendment would have also added language to the Florida Constitution stating that the state constitution could not be interpreted to “create broader rights to an abortion” than the U.S. Constitution.

Additionally, in 2004, voters approved an amendment that authorized the Legislature to enact a parental notification law for minors seeking abortions, with exceptions through judicial waivers.

Abortion-related policies have been a topic for statewide ballot measures across the U.S since the 1970s. From 1970 to 2022, 53 abortion-related ballot measures appeared on various state ballots.

Forty-three (81%) of those 53 measures had the support of organizations that described themselves as pro-life. Voters approved 11 (26%) of those 43, and rejected 32 (74%). 

The other 10 abortion-related ballot measures had the support of organizations that described themselves as pro-choice or pro-reproductive rights. Voters approved seven (70%) and rejected three (30%).

In 2022, abortion measures were on the ballot in six states—the most on record for a single year. Voters in three of those states—California, Michigan, and Vermont—approved constitutional amendments establishing a right to abortion. Click here to learn more. 

Additionally, on Nov. 7, Ohio voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would create a state constitutional right to make reproductive decisions, including decisions about abortion. In November 2024, voters in New York and Maryland will also vote on abortion-related amendments.

Amendments establishing a right to abortion have also been proposed in Arizona, Missouri, and South Dakota. Additionally, amendments restricting abortion have been proposed in Iowa, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.

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Twenty-four federal judicial vacancies on the horizon

There were 24 total announced upcoming vacancies for Article III judgeships as of Sept. 5, according to the latest vacancy data from the U.S. Courts

Article III judgeships refer to federal judges who serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of International Trade, one of the 13 U.S. courts of appeal, or one of the 94 U.S. district courts. The president makes these lifetime appointments, and the U.S. Senate confirms them.

These positions are not yet vacant but will be at some point in the future, as the judges have announced their intent to either leave the bench or assume senior status. In the meantime, these judges will continue to serve in their current positions.

The president and Senate do not need to wait for a position to become vacant before they can start the confirmation process for a successor. For example, Jennifer Hall was nominated to replace Judge Richard G. Andrews after he assumes senior status on Dec. 31, 2023. There are currently two nominees pending for upcoming vacancies.

Seven vacancy effective dates have not been determined because the judges have not announced when they will leave the bench. The next scheduled vacancy will take place on Oct. 31, when U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey Judge Kevin McNulty resigns.

In addition to these 24 upcoming vacancies, there are 70 current Article III vacancies in the federal judiciary out of the 870 total Article III judgeships. Including non-Article III judges from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. territorial courts, there are 71 vacancies out of 890 active federal judicial positions.

President Biden has nominated 177 individuals to federal judgeships on Article III courts. As of Sept. 5, the Senate has confirmed 140 of the nominees. Of the 31 nominees who are currently going through the confirmation process, 13 are awaiting a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, six are awaiting a committee vote, and 12 are awaiting a confirmation vote in the full U.S. Senate.

Biden’s 140 judicial appointments are higher than the average of 127 judicial appointments presidents have made by Sept. 1 of their third year in office going back to 1980. President Bill Clinton (D) had made the most appointments (165) by this time in his presidency. President George H.W. Bush (R) had made the fewest, with 94.

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