What we learned from identifying nearly 10,000 endorsements in local school board elections in 2023

Welcome to the Monday, January 8, 2024, Brew. 

By: Juan Garcia de Paredes

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

  1. What we learned from identifying nearly 10,000 endorsements in local school board elections in 2023
  2. Proponents of veto referendum use new state law to withdraw measure on fast food employment law

What we learned through our comprehensive school board election coverage in 2023

Last year, Ballotpedia provided comprehensive coverage of school board elections in Colorado, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

These 10 states held 5,254 elections for 8,758 school board seats, representing a little more than 10% of all school board seats nationwide. Thirty percent of those seats were in partisan elections, with the remaining 70% in nonpartisan elections.

Our coverage of these races included endorsements, pledges, voter files, and more. Now that we’ve finished crunching the numbers, here are a few of the takeaways from our research:

  • Local Democratic and Republican parties issued the most endorsements
  • Candidates without an endorsement won 73% of races
  • 53% of school board elections were uncontested
  • School board results tended to mirror the partisan lean of their districts

Local affiliates of the Democratic and Republican parties issued the most endorsements

We identified 2,516 endorsers who issued 9,675 endorsements for 3,891 candidates. That represents 30% of the 12,834 candidates in this analysis.

State and local affiliates of the Democratic and Republican parties issued 1,133 and 1,199 endorsements in contested elections, respectively.

Among the top 10 endorsers, seven were liberal, and three were conservative. These endorsers include organizations or affiliates who issued endorsements in at least two of the 10 states we covered.

The top liberal endorsers had an average win rate of 68% in contested elections, compared to a 48% win rate among the top conservative endorsers.

Candidates with no endorsements won 73% of the seats up for election

While we focused on gathering endorsements to help give voters a better idea of what policies these candidates supported, candidates who received no endorsements won 6,385 of the seats up for election (73%).

Liberal endorsees followed, winning 1,305 seats (15%). Conservative endorsees won 995 (11%).

The large number of candidates who won without endorsements is likely due to two things. The first is if voters have adequate information on candidates. In more rural school districts—which make up a vast majority of all school districts nationwide—candidates often don’t have social media pages or websites. Instead, many of these campaigns are run largely by word-of-mouth.

Additionally, endorsements are more likely in contested elections. If an election is uncontested, then there will likely also be no endorsements, leading to the next takeaway:

53% of school board elections were uncontested

While more attention has been focused on school board elections since the coronavirus pandemic, most school board elections are uneventful. 

Elections for 53% (4,630) of the 8,758 school board seats we covered were uncontested. An uncontested election is one where the number of candidates on the ballot is less than or equal to the number of seats up for election, effectively guaranteeing victory.

More than half of all school board seats up for election in Colorado, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin were uncontested. Additionally, four-fifths of all school districts in South Dakota canceled their elections due to a lack of candidates.

Kansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Minnesota had more contested than uncontested seats. To learn more about uncontested local elections in 2023, read the report we published back in December.

Even with nonpartisan elections, school board results tended to mirror the partisan lean of their districts

Of the 10 states we analyzed, only Pennsylvania had partisan school board elections.

But with publicly available voter registration information, we identified the party affiliations of all school board candidates, and their districts, in Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

Democratic and Republican wins came primarily from districts where those parties made up a majority or plurality of voters. This was true even in states with nonpartisan school board elections.

Of the 4,378 seats up for election in these four states, 817 (19%) were in Democratic districts, 3,525 (80%) were in Republican districts, and 36 (1%) were in districts with a plurality of unaffiliated voters.

Democrats won 79% of the seats in Democratic districts, and Republicans won 77% of the seats in Republican districts.

Some other findings include:

  • Incumbents ran for re-election in 68% of the 8,758 seats we covered, while 32% were open. This was average compared to our historical school board election coverage between 2018 and 2023, which had a 31% open seat rate. For comparison, the average open seat rate for U.S. House races since 2018 is 11%. For state legislative races, it’s 18%. 
  • Oklahoma had the lowest open seat rate at 20%. Minnesota had the highest at 51%, making it the only state with more open seats than seats with incumbents running for re-election.
  • Overall, 5,979 incumbents ran for re-election. Of that total, 85% won, and 15% lost. This was in line with our historical data, which shows a 17% overall loss rate.
  • Oklahoma had the lowest overall loss rate, with 9% of incumbents defeated. South Dakota had the highest, at 28%, though South Dakota only holds contested elections. Virginia had the highest loss rate among states holding contested and uncontested elections at 20%.
  • When looking only at the incumbents in contested elections, the percentage of incumbents defeated increases to 32%. This contested loss rate was above average compared to the 26% rate in Ballotpedia’s historical data. Minnesota had the lowest loss rate at 18% in these contested elections, and Virginia had the highest with 48% of contested incumbents defeated.

Click on the link below to view the full report. To view all state-specific analyses, click here.

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Proponents of veto referendum use new state law to withdraw measure on fast food employment law 

On Dec. 29, the Save Our Local Restaurants PAC withdrew a veto referendum from the Nov. 5, 2024, ballot that sought to repeal California Assembly Bill 257 (AB 257). AB 257 would establish a 10-member fast food council authorized to adopt a minimum wage for fast food restaurant employees not to exceed $22 per hour. 

This is the first veto referendum withdrawn under a new California law, Assembly Bill 421, passed in Sept. 2023. This law allows veto referendum proponents to withdraw their qualified referendum at least 131 days before the election. In cases when a referendum qualifies for the ballot with less than 131 days left before the election, proponents can withdraw their referendum when a petition is certified. Before 2023, initiative proponents could withdraw qualified initiatives, but referendum proponents could not. 

Save Our Local Restaurants withdrawal of the veto referendum follows the group’s announcement on Sept. 11 that it had reached a compromise with state legislators under Assembly Bill 1228 (AB 1228). Like AB 257, AB 1228 creates a fast food industry council to advise on future wage increases and working conditions.

AB 1228 set a minimum wage of $20 per hour for limited-service restaurants that are part of a chain with more than 60 locations, beginning on April 1, 2024. The bill also established a Fast Food Council that can increase the hourly minimum wage annually by no more than the lesser of 3.5% or the change in inflation. AB 1228 also repealed AB 257, the targeted legislation of the veto referendum, as long as the referendum was withdrawn.

After the signing of AB 1228, Matt Haller, president and CEO of the International Franchise Association, said, “Signature of AB 1228 preserves the franchise business model in the state and solidifies the best possible outcome for workers, local restaurant owners, and brands. Commonsense has prevailed, as franchising is responsible for creating opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people to become small business owners, and this agreement eliminates the existential threats our members faced.”

Save Our Local Restaurants raised $71.7 million through Sept. 30, 2023. The largest donors to the campaign were Chipotle ($12.8 million), In-N-Out ($12.8 million), Chick-fil-A ($11.6 million), McDonald’s ($11.1 million), and the National Restaurant Association ($5.5 million).

Asm. Chris Holden (D-41), the primary sponsor of AB 257 and AB 1228, said, “My goal for AB 1228 was to bring relief and solutions where they were needed and together with my colleagues and Governor Newsom, that is what we have done.”

The veto referendum is the ninth citizen-initiated ballot measure withdrawn in California since 2014, when the withdrawal process for initiated state statutes and constitutional amendments was enacted. Campaigns have withdrawn their ballot initiatives for several reasons, including:

  • working with legislators to pass compromise legislation;
  • requesting that legislators withdraw bills that initiative proponents opposed; or
  • qualifying a second proposal to replace the first proposal.

Eleven statewide ballot propositions have qualified for the ballot in California for elections in 2024, including one veto referendum—the California Oil and Gas Well Regulations Referendum. That referendum would repeal Senate Bill 1137, which prohibits new oil and gas wells within health protection zones.

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