Ballotpedia’s exclusive deep dive into Nov. 2023 school board elections, part two: Virginia

Welcome to the Tuesday, November 21, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

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

  1. A majority of school board seats were uncontested in Virginia
  2. Thirty-seven state legislative sessions are scheduled to begin in January 
  3. Applications now open for our Spring 2024 Volunteer Fellowship Program! 

A majority of school board seats were uncontested in Virginia

Ballotpedia covered every school board election in seven states on Nov. 7: Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington. Over the next month, we’ll take a deep dive into school board elections in each of those states, with a focus on endorsements, open seats, and incumbents defeated. Yesterday, we looked at Minnesota in the first installment of our series. Today, we’re heading east to Virginia.  

Here are the top highlights from our analysis: 

A majority of school board seats were uncontested in Virginia

On Nov. 7, Virginia held elections for 404 school board seats—232 (57%) of which were uncontested. That total includes 20 seats where no candidates filed, guaranteeing them to write-in candidates.

Of the 99 districts that held elections, most or all school board elections were uncontested in 66 (66%), and most or all were contested in 34 (34%).

Virginia is hardly an outlier when it comes to the number of school board elections with no competition. We documented that 80% of school board elections were uncontested in Oklahoma and South Dakota in elections earlier this year. In Wisconsin, which held elections on April 4, around 60% of seats had no contests.

Minnesota, which we looked at yesterday, does stand out here— 31% of seats were uncontested. 

Candidates who received no endorsements won the most seats overall

Across the country, most school board races (more than 90%) are nonpartisan. However, in the Nov. 7 elections in Virginia, individuals and state, local, and national organizations—many with explicitly ideological missions—endorsed candidates. We used those endorsements to group candidates into the following categories—liberal, conservative, or no endorsements

Of the 404 seats up for election:

  • Candidates who received no endorsements won 245 seats, or 61%. 
  • Conservative candidates won 94 seats (24%)
  • Liberal candidates won 63 (15%).
  • We were unable to categorize the remaining two candidates. 

The high percentage of unendorsed candidates is a result of Virginia’s large number of uncontested elections. Unsurprisingly, a candidate who is running unopposed is less likely to receive endorsements. 

What happened in the contested elections that had candidates with different ideologies? In those situations:

  • 75 liberal candidates ran, 46 of whom won (61%)
  • 117 conservative candidates ran, 56 of whom won (48%)
  • 88 candidates with no endorsements ran, 25 of whom won (28%)

Incumbents did not run for re-election in 40% of races—and when they did run in contested elections, 48% lost

Both the percentage of open seats and the percentage of incumbents defeated in contested elections were above average compared to our historical school board election coverage:

  • There were 161 open seats (40%), higher than the 29% open seat rate we recorded nationwide between 2018 and 2022; and,
  • Of the 102 incumbents in contested elections, 49 lost (48%), higher than the historical 26% defeat rate nationwide.

The defeat totals include four races where an incumbent loss was guaranteed because redistricting or other changes pitted two incumbents against each other. That was the case in the four elections below, each of which had two incumbents running against each other for a single seat:

  • Mecklenburg County Public Schools, District 2
  • Patrick County Public Schools, Blue Ridge District
  • Sussex County Public Schools, Blackwater District
  • Sussex County Public Schools, Yale District

In case you missed it, we published comprehensive analyses on three other states that held school board elections earlier this year: Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

We’ll be back in a future edition with part three of our series—this time with a look at Colorado.

Click below to read our full report on Virginia school board elections. 

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Thirty-seven state legislative sessions are scheduled to begin in January 

Autumn is generally a quiet time for state lawmakers. Most state legislative sessions have ended (though a few are currently in session, as we will discuss below), and lawmakers are gearing up for the rush of legislative activity that always marks the start of a new year. 

Let’s look at what we can expect at the start of 2024. 

As of this writing:

  • 37 state legislative sessions will begin in January
  • Six legislative sessions will begin in February
  • One legislative sessions will begin in March
  • Two legislative sessions will begin in April.

Ten states have full-time legislators, meaning the legislature meets throughout the year. All other legislators are considered part-time because they only meet for a portion of the year. Forty-six state legislatures hold regular sessions every year. However, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas only meet in odd-numbered years (unless the governor or legislature calls a special session. 

Legislators are paid a base salary in every state but New Mexico, but the amount can vary considerably. The highest-paid lawmakers tend to be full-time. New York tops the list, with their full-time legislators making $142,000 annually. Conversely, New Hampshire’s part-time legislators earn just $100 annually without a per diem. 

Lawmakers in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont will begin first on Jan. 2, followed by those in Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and New York on Jan. 3. Lawmakers in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Louisiana, the last to go, aren’t scheduled to meet until a few months into the year (March and April). 

Session lengths can vary considerably. Arkansas, New Mexico, and Wyoming, for example, are currently scheduled to have the shortest sessions, each lasting about one month. In Ohio, New Jersey, and Michigan legislators are scheduled to meet throughout the year, up to Dec. 31.

The 2023 legislative term isn’t quite over, even though most lawmakers have long since returned to their districts. As of this writing, legislators in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are still in a regular session. Lawmakers in Texas are in a special session that began Nov. 7 and is scheduled to conclude on Dec. 6.

You can see the start and projected end dates for all states holding regular sessions in 2024 below. 

Click below to read more about state legislative sessions.

Keep reading 

Applications now open for our Spring 2024 Volunteer Fellowship Program! 

Do you know a high school or college student who loves politics and believes every voter deserves quality information before heading to the polls? Maybe one you’ll see over Thanksgiving? Let them know applications are now open for our Spring 2024 Volunteer Fellowship Program!

The Spring 2024 Fellowship Program—our 12th program cycle—runs from Feb. 19 to April 12. During that time, fellows will play a critical role in expanding our coverage of American politics. Fellows will focus on researching local officeholders and candidates who are on the ballot in the 2024 elections. They will also learn skills that will benefit them in future careers in politics, journalism, or communications, among others.

What’s required? The ability to work 5-10 hours each week, a computer or laptop with a reliable internet connection, and a passion for Ballotpedia’s mission to provide American voters with unbiased, factual information.

Please share this information with high school or college students you know who may be interested in an exciting opportunity helping voters participate in the 2024 election cycle! 

Apply here