Here’s where primary voters are deciding advisory questions

Welcome to the Tuesday, February 13, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

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

  1. Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas ballots have featured political party platform advisory questions in recent years
  2. Fifteen candidates are running in the top-two primary in California’s 30th Congressional District 
  3. Lawmakers in Virginia and New York have advanced the most election bills so far this year

Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas ballots have featured political party platform advisory questions in recent years

At Ballotpedia, we track every single statewide ballot measure. The more widely known ones are about topics like abortion or minimum wages—those that would add or change a state law or amend a state’s constitution. But there’s another, lesser-known type of measure that can appear before voters—the advisory question. 

An advisory question is a non-binding measure used to gauge public opinion. While state lawmakers typically place advisory questions on statewide ballots, they are also occasionally used by political parties.  

We are currently following political party platform advisory questions in three states—Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas. These questions can provide a window into where primary voters stand on the issues—and how those issues have changed over time.  

All three states have open primaries, meaning ​​voters do not have to join a political party to vote in its primary (in 20 states, at least one political party conducts open primaries for congressional and state-level offices). The number of questions on state primary ballots ranges from two in South Carolina to 13 in Georgia and Texas.

On Feb. 24, South Carolina Republicans will decide three questions on voter registration, oversight of the state judiciary, and changes to awarding financial damages from litigation. On March 5, Texas Republicans will decide 13 questions on eliminating property taxes, immigration, the right to refuse a vaccine, allowing only Republicans to vote in the primary, parental rights over their children’s education, proof of citizenship to vote, and a ban on selling Texas land to Chinese, Iranian, North Korean, and Russian nationals or corporations.

Democratic Party advisory questions were state-specific in 2014 but have increasingly reflected national concerns in recent years. For example, in South Carolina in 2014, questions addressed state regulation of online gaming and medical marijuana. In Georgia in 2014, Democrats decided questions on the state minimum wage, federal funding for state expansion of Medicaid, creating a state ethics commission, and the state education budget. More recently, Democrats voted on questions about student loan forgiveness, free public preschool, voter policies, incentives for renewable energy sources, and recreational marijuana.

Republicans have similarly expanded the topics addressed by political party advisory questions since 1996—the first example of political party questions Ballotpedia identified. The issues Georgians voted on that year included were parental rights over education, punishments for crimes, and limiting state spending or taxes. More recent Republican questions address protections for born and pre-born persons, immigration, free speech on social media, transgender policies in schools and sports, the right to refuse vaccines, and election administration.

Georgia Republicans voted on advisory questions in July 1996, June 2020, and May 2022. Georgia Democrats voted on advisory questions in May 2014, as well as in 2020 and 2022. Both parties in South Carolina placed advisory questions on the ballot in June 2014, and the South Carolina Republican Party placed questions on this year’s primary ballot. In Texas, the Republican Party has placed questions on every state primary ballot since 2020. Texas Democrats placed questions on the 2020 primary ballot.

Voters approved all questions, except for two Georgia Republicans proposed in 2020 and 2022. In 2020, 51.78% of Georgia Republican voters defeated a question proposing to make the Republican primary a closed primary. In 2022, 96.30% of Georgia Republican voters voted “No” in response to “Should schools in Georgia allow biological males to compete in female sports?”

State lawmakers sometimes place advisory questions on statewide ballots. For example, in 2023, Wisconsin voters approved a question advising the legislature to require “able-bodied, childless adults… to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits.” An average of 3.4 advisory questions appeared on statewide ballots each year between 2010 and 2023. 

Click here to read more about South Carolina’s Republican Party advisory questions. Click below to read the Texas Republican Party questions. 

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Fifteen candidates are running in the top-two primary in California’s 30th Congressional District 

Throughout the year, we’ll bring you coverage of the most compelling primaries—the battleground elections we expect to have a meaningful effect on the balance of power in governments or to be particularly competitive. You can catch our previous coverage of other battleground races here.

On Monday, we previewed the special election for New York’s 3rd Congressional District—which is happening today. Now, let’s head to the other side of the country for a look at the race to replace California Rep. Adam Schiff (D), who is running for U.S. Senate

Fifteen candidates are running in the top-two primary on March 5. Four candidates lead in noteworthy endorsements, fundraising, and local media attention: Mike Feuer (D), Laura Friedman (D), Nick Melvoin (D), and Anthony Portantino, Jr. (D).

In a top-two primary, all candidates are listed on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of their partisan affiliations. That means two candidates belonging to the same political party can face off in the general election. California adopted a top-two primary system in 2010 after the passage of Proposition 14. California, Nebraska, and Washington use top-two primaries for some elections (Alaska and Louisiana use variations on top-two primaries). 

As of Jan. 30, The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball each rated the general election Safe/Solid Democratic. In the 2022 top-two primary, Democratic candidates received a combined 76.9% of the vote to Republicans’ 21.2%.

According to the Los Angeles Times’ Julia Wick and Faith Pinho, “California’s 30th Congressional District includes some very wealthy sections of Los Angeles and major entertainment studios, making its representative well-positioned to tap an affluent fundraising base as he or she builds a national profile.”

Also running in the primary are Francesco Arreaga (D), Joshua Bocanegra (No party preference), Stephen Dunwoody (D), Sal Genovese (D), J. Emilio Martinez (R), Courtney Najera (D), Ben Savage (D), and Sepi Shyne (D).

Learn more about the race below. 

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Lawmakers in Virginia and New York have advanced the most election bills so far this year

Every Friday, we publish the Ballot Bulletin—our newsletter about election-related policy and legislation. Among other things, the newsletter provides in-depth coverage of legislative trends and bill activity using data pulled from Ballotpedia’s Election Administration Legislation Tracker.

Here’s an update on election legislation as we move into the middle of February. 

  • New York, a Democratic trifecta state, has the most active legislature so far this year in advancing election-related legislation out of at least one chamber. Lawmakers have advanced 29 bills. 
  • Legislators in Virginia have advanced 24 election-related bills out of at least one chamber of the General Assembly so far, including 15 bills that have crossed over since the beginning of February.
  • Georgia (11 bills) and South Dakota (10) have advanced the next highest number of election-related bills. Both states have Republican trifectas.

Since the Feb. 2 edition of the Ballot Bulletin

  • State legislatures acted on 365 bills this week, 49 more than the week before.
  • Democrats sponsored 119 (32.6%) of the 365 bills active over the past week, and Republicans sponsored 190 (52.1%) bills. Thirty-five (9.6%) bills had bipartisan sponsorship. Twenty-one (5.8%) bills had sponsors other than Democrats or Republicans, such as nonpartisan lawmakers or committee sponsorship.
  • The top five bill topics this week were:
  1. Election types and contest-specific procedures (72)
  2. Voter registration and list maintenance (32)
  3. Enforcement and election fraud (28)
  4. Absentee/mail-in voting (27)
  5. Election dates and deadlines (26)

Click below to subscribe to the Ballot Bulletin to stay up to date on the latest election legislation news. 

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