Author

Dave Beaudoin

Dave Beaudoin is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Glenn Youngkin wins Virginia Republican Party’s gubernatorial nomination

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Glenn Youngkin wins Virginia Republican Party’s gubernatorial nomination

Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia Republican Party’s gubernatorial nomination on May 10 after six rounds of vote-counting using ranked-choice voting. Youngkin defeated six candidates, including business owner Pete Snyder, state Sen. Amanda Chase, and former House Speaker Kirk Cox. After the final round of vote-counting, Youngkin received 55% of the delegate vote to Pete Snyder’s 45%.

Due to coronavirus crowd-size restrictions, the Virginia Republicans held an unassembled convention on May 8 across 39 satellite locations for all three statewide executive offices—governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. Delegates cast a single ballot using ranked-choice voting to determine a winner, rather than using multiple rounds of voting. 

Ranked-choice voting is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins a majority of adjusted votes.

Youngkin led the field of Republican candidates in fundraising. According to campaign finance reports, he raised $7.7 million as of March 31. He is the former co-CEO and president of The Carlyle Group, a global investment firm, where he worked from 1995 to 2020.

Youngkin responded to our Candidate Connection survey before the convention. In it, he said, “We need a governor with real-world experience who can create jobs, keep businesses from leaving, put an open-for-business sign on Virginia, and create a rip-roaring economy that lifts all Virginians.” Click here to read all of his survey responses.

Incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is unable to seek re-election due to term limits. Virginia’s constitution prevents the governor from running for a second consecutive term, although there is no lifetime term limit.

Democrats have won every statewide election in Virginia since 2012. The last Republican to win the governorship was Bob McDonnell (R) in 2009. In 2019, Democrats won majorities in both the state House and Senate, creating a Democratic trifecta in the state for the first time since 1994.

Read on

Voters deciding nine ballot measures in seven states in response to coronavirus or pandemic-related regulations

Ballotpedia has been tracking certified and potential ballot measures that were proposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and coronavirus-related regulations. Nine statewide measures in seven states have already qualified for the ballot, and eight more measures in five states have been proposed.

One statewide measure related to the pandemic has already been approved. Last November, New Jersey voters approved Public Question 3, 58% to 42%, which postpones state legislative redistricting until after the 2021 election if the state received federal census data after February 15, 2021. The Census Bureau released apportionment counts last month and announced that it would deliver redistricting data to the states by September 30.

Pennsylvania voters will decide two constitutional amendments May 18 on the governor’s emergency powers, which have been a point of conflict between the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf during the pandemic. One amendment would limit a governor’s emergency declaration to 21 days unless the legislature votes on a concurrent resolution to extend the order. The other amendment would allow the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a resolution, which the governor cannot veto, by a simple majority to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency declaration.

Voters will decide at least six other measures in the 2022 general election on topics such as changes to election laws prior to an election, how state legislatures can be called into and conduct special sessions, and restrictions on religious freedom.

Ballotpedia has also identified three local ballot measures passed last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic and coronavirus-related regulations:

  • Miami, Florida, voters approved a non-binding measure in favor of creating a COVID-19 screening program at the Miami International Airport,
  • DuPage County, Illinois, voters approved a non-binding measure advising the county to stockpile personal protective equipment (PPE) for distribution to nursing homes, first responders, health care providers, and at-risk communities,
  • Sacramento, California, voters amended the city charter allowing the city to delay the completion of the redistricting process from 2021 to 2022.

Read on 

Annette Ziegler becomes chief justice of Wisconsin Supreme Court

Annette Ziegler began a two-year term as chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 1. She succeeds Patience Roggensack, who had served as chief justice since April 2015.

Until 2015, the justice with the longest continuous service on the Wisconsin Supreme Court served as the chief justice, unless that justice declined (in which case the role passed to the next senior justice of the court). Voters passed a state constitutional amendment in April of that year—Question 1—that changed the selection method to a majority vote of the current justices. 

Ziegler was first elected to the court in 2007 and was re-elected unopposed to another ten-year term in 2017. She previously served as a Washington County Circuit Court judge, becoming the first female judge in that county.

Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan. Ballotpedia’s State Court Partisanship Study identifies Ziegler as a mild Republican.

Chief justices of the state supreme courts act as head of the judiciaries in their states, in addition to serving as a justice on the court. Each state has different laws providing for the selection of its chief justice(s). Ballotpedia has categorized four methods of selection, as follows:

  • Appointment: chief justices are appointed to the position by the governor, state legislature, or other body
  • Chamber vote: the court’s justices choose a chief justice from amongst themselves
  • Popular vote: chief justices are elected to the position by voters in the state
  • Seniority: the chief justice is determined based on their length of service on the court

State supreme court chief justices in Wisconsin and 22 other states are selected by chamber vote. Fourteen (14) states select chief justices by appointment, seven by popular vote, and six by seniority. 

And if all this sounds really interesting and you want to learn more about state supreme courts and our State Court Partisanship Study, please join us later today for a briefing with one of the study’s primary authors. Click here to register for your spot!
Read on



Reviewing nearly $200 billion in approved bond measures since 2000

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Voters have approved $199.3 billion in bond measures since 2000

Our ballot measures team just finished some really fascinating research on statewide bond measures over the past 20 years. One of their findings was that bond measure approval rates were the highest in Democratic trifectas, rather than Republican trifectas or states with divided governments. Another interesting fact was that two-thirds of the total bond measures were put on the ballot by Democratic-controlled legislatures. Let’s take a dive into the data.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

Bond measures are put on the ballot to authorize a state or district to take on a certain amount of bond debt. Some states have voter approval requirements for statewide bond debt, while others do not. We tracked 244 statewide bond measures on the ballot from 2000 to 2020 asking voters to authorize up to $254.63 billion in bond debt in 22 states.

The bulk of these bonds were placed on the ballot by state legislatures. Eleven citizen initiative petitions placed statewide bond measures on the ballot from 2000 to 2020, and state legislatures referred the other 233 measures to the ballot.

Now, let’s dive into the findings.

  • Of the 244 bond measures, 214 measures authorizing a total of $199.281 billion were approved and 30 measures proposing a total of $55.353 billion were defeated.
  • An average of 12 statewide bond measures were voted on per year, with the most measures (26) voted on in 2002, and no statewide bond measures voted on in 2011.
  • The state with the largest amount of bond debt on the ballot was California with $182.2 billion, $152.4 billion of which was approved.
  • Ninety-five statewide bond measures were on the ballot in states with Democratic trifectas, and 20 statewide bond measures were on the ballot in states with Republican trifectas.
  • Seventy-nine bond measures were on the ballot in states with Democrat-controlled legislatures but Republican governors, and nine were on the ballot in states with Republican-controlled legislatures but Democratic governors.
  • The three states with the most measures on the ballot were Maine (60), Rhode Island (49), and New Mexico (40).

The chart below shows the approval rating for statewide bond measures since 2000. To read the full report, click the link below.

Read on

Tennessee voters to decide right-to-work amendment in 2022 

Speaking of ballot measures, here’s an update from Tennessee. Voters will decide a constitutional amendment in 2022 that would make it illegal for workplaces to require mandatory labor union membership as a condition for employment. This type of policy is known as right-to-work. Tennessee enacted a right-to-work statute in 1947.

In Tennessee, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment requires a vote in each chamber of the Tennessee State Legislature in two successive legislative sessions with an election in between. However, there are two different vote requirements depending on the session. During the first legislative session, the constitutional amendment needs to receive a simple majority (50%+1) vote in each legislative chamber. During the second legislative session, the constitutional amendment needs to receive a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber.

Last session, the amendment passed 24-5 in the state Senate and 68-22 in the state House in 2020. This session, the state Senate passed the measure in March by a vote of 24-7. Twenty-four Republicans voted in favor and one Republican joined the chamber’s six Democrats in voting against. The state House approved the amendment 67-24 on April 29 with 67 Republicans voting in favor and 23 Democrats and one Republican voting against.  

Twenty-seven states have enacted right-to-work statutes. Nine states have adopted right-to-work constitutional amendments. Alabama and Virginia were the last states to decide right-to-work amendments in 2016. Alabama voters approved Amendment 8, 70% to 30%, and Virginia voters rejected Question 1, 54% to 46%. Missouri voters repealed the state’s right-to-work statute via a veto referendum in 2018.

Tennessee’s right-to-work amendment will be the first one certified for the ballot in the state since 2014. Tennessee voters approved all 11 statewide ballot measures decided between 1995 and 2014.

Read on 

Don’t miss our state supreme court partisanship briefing

Here’s a preview of our upcoming briefing on state supreme court partisanship. 

One of the most common questions Ballotpedia staff hear is, “How do I learn more about my judges?” Our latest report helps answer that question by looking at partisanship at each state’s highest court, and we’re excited to share it with you during the briefing. 

Join us tomorrow, May 12, at 11:00 AM Central Time as our state courts expert Samuel Postell and I go over the findings of our partisanship report. We’ll answer questions such as:

  • What is the Ballotpedia Courts Study?
  • How does partisanship inform the way that justices rule in cases before the courts of last resort?
  • Who is the majority on your court of last resort? Who is the minority?

I hope you’ll join us for this exclusive discussion. Can’t make it during the scheduled time? We’ll email you a recording of our conversation so you don’t miss a thing. Click the link below to snag your spot!

Register here



The Daily Brew: How COVID-19 was impacting policy 1 year ago

Welcome to the Monday, May 10, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week
  2. Arkansas passes bill with multiple restrictions on the ballot initiative process
  3. Previewing the mayoral races in Anchorage and Omaha

Happy Monday! We hope it was a lovely Mother’s Day weekend.

COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week

We continue our Monday series highlighting policy changes and events related to the coronavirus pandemic from one year ago this week. Here is a sampling of coronavirus-related policy changes and events that happened one year ago this week.

  • Federal government responses:
    • On May 15, President Donald Trump (R) announced the creation of Operation Warp Speed, an administration task force meant to help develop a coronavirus vaccine. Moncef Slaoui was named as the task force’s chief scientist, and U.S. Army General Gustave Perna was named as its chief operating officer.
  • Election changes:
    • On May 12, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D) signed HF3429 into law, authorizing general election candidates to submit filing forms and petitions electronically.
    • On May 13, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster (R) signed into law a bill allowing any eligible South Carolina voter to request an absentee ballot for the state’s June 9, 2020, primary and subsequent runoff elections.
  • Stay-at-home orders:
    • On May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm overstepped her authority when she extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 26 on behalf of Gov. Tony Evers (D). The ruling invalidated all statewide coronavirus restrictions.  
    • The following five governors ended their state’s stay-at-home orders on May 15—Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, and Vermont. 
  • Travel restrictions
    • On May 14, Arkansas Secretary of Health Nathaniel Smith issued a 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers who have been in an international location or New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or New Orleans in the last 14 days.

For the most recent coronavirus news, including the latest on vaccines and mask mandates, subscribe to our daily newsletter, Documenting America’s Path to Recovery

Read on

Arkansas passes bill with multiple restrictions on the ballot initiative process

On April 29, a bill in Arkansas adding several restrictions to the state’s ballot initiative and veto referendum process became law. 

Senate Bill 614 included restrictions to:

  • ban paying signature gatherers based on the number of signatures gathered, a payment method called pay-per-signature;
  • require circulators to be state residents and citizens; and
  • add certain offenses that disqualify a person from being a signature gatherer, including assault, battery, intimidation, threatening, sexual offenses, trespassing, vandalism, and theft (in addition to the existing list of any felony, election law violations, fraud, forgery, and identity theft).

The state House passed an amended version of the bill on April 14 by a vote of 72-18. The Senate passed it on April 22 by a vote of 27-5. In the House, 72 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and 17 Democrats and one Republican voted against it. In the Senate, 26 Republicans and one Democrat voted in favor of the bill, and four Democrats and one independent voted against it. It became law after the governor’s five-day window to veto bills passed. Arkansas has a Republican state government trifecta. 

Provisions in Senate Bill 614 setting disqualifying offenses for signature gatherers and making initiative sponsors responsible for checking the backgrounds of signature gatherers will replace the state’s previous background check requirements that were overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court on March 11.

Sen. Breanne Davis (R), who sponsored SB 614, said the bill protects the integrity of the initiative process. Davis also said, “I think it’s important that we have Arkansans collecting signatures. This process is meant to be a process for Arkansans.”

David Couch, an initiative activist in Arkansas, said he would file a lawsuit seeking to overturn SB 614. Couch said the bill is an attack on the state’s citizen initiative process. Nell Matthews with the League of Women Voters of Arkansas said that SB 614 is “just another attempt to quash any efforts by the public to have a say in the governance of the state.”

The Arkansas Legislature also referred a constitutional amendment to the November 2022 ballot that would require 60% supermajority voter approval to adopt future constitutional amendments (legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) and citizen-initiated state statutes.

2021 ballot measure law changes context

Ballotpedia has tracked 197 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 37 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 17 have been approved, and 20 have been defeated or have died.

Legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah have approved bills to restrict the ballot initiative processes in their states.

Notable topics among bills introduced in 2021 sessions include supermajority requirement increases, signature requirement and distribution requirement increases, single-subject rules, pay-per-signature bans, residency requirements and other circulator restrictions, fiscal impact statement and funding source requirements, and ballot measure campaign contribution restrictions.

Read on 

Previewing the mayoral races in Anchorage and Omaha

Tomorrow, we’ll be watching the mayoral races in both Anchorage, Alaska, and Omaha, Nebraska. Here’s a quick rundown of the two. Anchorage and Omaha are the 62nd and 42nd largest cities by population in the United States. Mayoral elections are taking place in 31 of the 100 largest U.S. cities in 2021.

Anchorage

David Bronson and Forrest Dunbar are facing each other in a runoff election after the April 6 general election, as neither candidate won more than 45% of the vote. Bronson received 33% of the vote to Dunbar’s 31%.

Incumbent Ethan Berkowitz (D) resigned from office on October 23, 2020, due to what he said was “unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required.” Austin Quinn-Davidson was selected by the Anchorage Assembly to serve as acting mayor.

Dunbar previously ran as a Democrat in 2014 to represent the At-Large Congressional District of Alaska in the U.S. House, and Planned Parenthood endorsed him for mayor. Former Lieutenant Governor of Alaska Craig Campbell (R) endorsed Bronson.

Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a central issue in the race. Dunbar said he supported maintaining safety measures enacted by the Anchorage Assembly, such as a mask mandate and business restrictions, while Bronson said that he supported reconsidering or removing restrictions. Homelessness and crime is also a key topic, with candidates divided over shelter funding and locations and prevention methods.

Omaha

Incumbent Jean Stothert and RJ Neary are facing off in the general election after winning the top-two spots in the April 6 primary. Stothert is one of 26 Republican mayors across the country’s 100 largest cities. She was first elected in 2013, following Democratic control of the mayorship since 2001, and won re-election in 2017. She is Omaha’s longest-serving Republican mayor since 1906.

Neary is the chairman of Investors Realty, a commercial real estate investment company, and the former chairman of the Omaha Planning Board. During the primary, he received endorsements from the city’s three most recent Democratic mayors: Mike Fahey, Jim Suttle, and Mike Boyle.

Seven city council seats will also be on the May 11 ballot. District 3 incumbent Chris Jerram was the only city council member to not file for re-election in 2021. Five incumbents advanced past the primary election and will appear on the general election ballot. District 5 incumbent Colleen Brennan lost her re-election bid after placing fifth in the primary election.



Ballotpedia analysis – net change in state legislative seats during Trump’s presidency

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Republicans lost 187 net state legislative seats during the Trump administration

Over the course of Donald Trump’s (R) presidency, Republicans lost 187 net state legislative seats. During all presidencies since 1921, the president’s party has lost a net average of 552 state legislative seats. The net loss of 187 Republican state legislative seats during the Trump administration was the smallest loss of seats for the president’s party since Harry Truman’s (D) presidency, which saw a net loss of 138 Democratic seats. 

In 61 of the 99 state legislative chambers, the Democratic Party held more seats following the 2020 general election than it did after the general election in 2016.

Six state legislative chambers in five states flipped from Republican to Democratic control compared to the start of Trump’s presidency. In four states—Colorado, Maine, New York, and Virginia—this resulted in the creation of Democratic trifectas, where Democrats controlled both chambers as well as the governorship. Republicans did not gain control of any chambers by the end of Trump’s presidency that they did not already control at its start. The Alaska House of Representatives was controlled by a bipartisan coalition throughout Trump’s presidency.

The number of state legislative seats that Democrats held increased in 34 states during Trump’s presidency, either by increasing an already-existing majority or narrowing/flipping a Republican majority. The largest shifts in Democrats’ favor came in Connecticut, Virginia, and Georgia. The number of seats that Republicans held increased in 13 states. The largest shifts in Republicans’ favor came in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Louisiana. There were no net shifts in either legislative chamber in Alaska or Nevada. Nebraska, which has a nonpartisan legislature, was excluded from this analysis.

Two presidents—George H.W. Bush (R) and Ronald Reagan (R)—gained state legislative seats over the course of their presidencies. During the past century, the largest Republican losses occurred under the Herbert Hoover (R) administration with a net loss of 1,662 Republican seats from 1929 to 1933. The largest Democratic losses occurred during Barack Obama’s (D) administration with a net loss of 948 Democratic seats from 2009 to 2017.

Read on

Ballotpedia’s federal judicial vacancy count: 75 open federal judgeships

Earlier this month, we released our monthly federal judicial vacancy count, which found that as of May 1, there were 75 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 8.6%. Seven of those vacancies were on the U.S. Courts of Appeals, 66 were on U.S. District Courts, and two were on the U.S. Court of International Trade.

So far, President Joe Biden (D)  has nominated 13 individuals to the federal circuit and district courts. None of the nominees have been confirmed. Five of the nominees are awaiting committee hearings. The other eight are awaiting a committee vote.

In comparison with the previous administration, President Donald Trump (R) made his first Article III judicial nomination on January 31, 2017, when he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump’s first successful appointment–where the nominee was confirmed–occurred on April 7, 2017, when the Senate confirmed Gorsuch. Outside of the Supreme Court, Trump’s first successful appointment was on May 25, 2017, when Amul Thapar was confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

Since 1901, the earliest successful Article III appointment was made by President Richard Nixon (R). Nixon appointed a federal district judge by March 1 of his first year in office. Three presidents–Theodore Roosevelt (R), Calvin Coolidge (R), and Gerald Ford (R)–made the fewest with no judicial appointments during their first year in office.

Since Ronald Reagan (R), the average number of federal judges appointed in the president’s first year is 24.

Read on 

Cincinnati mayoral election goes to runoff; voters reject one, approve two charter amendments on May 4

The first five days of May have been a busy time of local elections. We spent the beginning part of this week looking at Saturday’s elections – now, let’s review what happened on Tuesday in Cincinnati, the country’s 64th-largest city. 

Cincinnati held municipal elections on May 4, with voters casting ballots in the city’s nonpartisan mayoral primary and deciding three charter amendments. 

Mayor

Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval and councilman and former mayor David Mann were the top-two finishers among six candidates and will meet in the general election on Nov. 2. Pureval received 39.1% of the vote and Mann received 29.1%. 

Although the elections for and position of the mayor are officially nonpartisan, the candidates running were affiliated with political parties. Both Pureval and Mann are Democrats. The last Republican to serve as mayor was Willis Gradison, who left office in 1971. Mayor John Cranley—who was first elected mayor in 2013 and re-elected in 2017—was not able to run for re-election in 2021 due to term limits.

In addition to the mayoral election on Nov. 2, Cincinnati voters will also elect all nine members of the city council. All council members are selected at large, and each voter can select up to nine candidates, with the top nine finishers elected to council. 

Charter Amendments

Cincinnati voters also decided three charter amendments, approving two of them and rejecting one. The two approved amendments:

  • Issue 1 requires the city solicitor to appoint a special prosecutor to prosecute an action to remove a member of council where a member of the council has been indicted for a felony or a criminal complaint has been filed against a member for charges relating to official conduct. It passed 77% to 23%.
  • Issue 2 provides new mechanisms for removing council members indicted for crimes related to their duties from office, in addition to other ethics-related amendments. Among other provisions, it provides for a pre-conviction suspension of council members indicted for state or federal felonies related to the council member’s duties and the removal of council members upon conviction of or guilty plea. It passed 77% to 23%.

Some background – three Cincinnati city council members were arrested on felony corruption charges in 2020. The charges stemmed from situations where the members allegedly took bribes from developers for city business. A fourth council member was charged with a third-degree felony count of tampering with records in April 2021. 

  • Voters defeated Issue 3, which would have required a permanent $50 million annual contribution of city funds to a Cincinnati Affordable Housing Trust Fund. It would have created a board of private citizens to manage the fund and provided guidelines for what projects could be financed. It was defeated, 73% to 27%.


What you need to know about Virginia’s GOP convention

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Virginia Republicans to select statewide nominees via convention Saturday

Republicans in Virginia will meet on Saturday—May 8—to select statewide nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. The Republican Party of Virginia chose to hold an unassembled convention rather than a primary, which means that delegates—voters who registered to participate in the convention—will decide the nominees.

Seven candidates are running for the Republican nomination for governor. Six candidates are seeking the party’s nod for lieutenant governor and four for attorney general. Incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is unable to seek re-election due to term limits. In Virginia, governors are limited to a single, four-year term and may not seek re-election. Democrats have won every statewide election in Virginia since 2012.  The last Republican to win the governorship was Bob McDonnell (R) in 2009. 

Conventions in Virginia typically take place with delegates meeting at a single location, but due to coronavirus restrictions the party developed a new set of rules for 2021. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s take a look at how things will take place:

  • The convention is taking place from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET.
  • Delegates will meet at 39 different locations across the state. Each delegate represents a voting unit and may only vote at the polling place assigned to his or her given voting unit.
  • Over 53,000 delegates registered to participate in the convention.
  • Delegate votes are weighted. This means that the state party allocated a set number of votes to each voting unit, which will in turn be divided among the delegates assigned to that voting unit. For example, if the party allocated 100 votes to a unit and 100 delegates participated, each delegate would represent one vote. If 200 delegates participate in that voting unit, each delegate vote would count for half a vote.
  • The convention will use ranked-choice voting, which is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. A candidate who wins a majority of first preference votes is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. This counting process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.
  • This is the Republican Party of Virginia’s second nomination process using ranked-choice voting. They first used the system to select its party chairman in 2020. This will be the first time the state party uses this method to nominate candidates.
  • All ballots will be counted by hand. After the convention, the ballots will be delivered to a central location, and counting will begin on Sunday. Party chairman Rich Anderson (R) said they are prepared to count until the following Thursday, but he expects counting to be finished by the following Tuesday.

Read on

Pennsylvania voters to decide two amendments regarding the governor’s emergency powers 

Pennsylvania voters will decide two constitutional amendments May 18 on the governor’s emergency powers, which have been a point of conflict between the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf during the pandemic. 

One amendment would limit a governor’s emergency declaration to 21 days unless the legislature votes on a concurrent resolution to extend the order. The other amendment would allow the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a resolution, which the governor cannot veto, by a simple majority to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency declaration.

Amendment supporters argue that it mitigates the consolidation of power they say occurred during the pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-39) said, “Under Gov. Wolf’s current declaration of emergency for Covid-19, we are witnessing what consolidated power looks like: inconsistent vaccine roll outs, businesses that have been shuttered, nursing home residents who have suffered under the Department of Health, and hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers who continue to struggle to obtain unemployment benefits.”

Opposition to the amendment argue that it would slow down emergency response by the government and that it adds partisan politics to the process. Gov. Wolf stated, “[The constitutional amendment] would hinder our ability to respond quickly, comprehensively and effectively to a disaster emergency by requiring any declaration to be affirmed by concurrent resolution of the legislature every three weeks. This would force partisan politics into the commonwealth’s disaster response efforts and could slow down or halt emergency response when aid is most needed.”

The legislatures of four states—Alaska, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota—are required to vote on extending or terminating a governor’s emergency declarations.

  • In Kansas, the legislature must vote to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency order within 15 days after it is first issued.
  • In Michigan, the legislature must vote on the emergency order within 28 days.
  • In Alaska and Minnesota, the legislatures must vote to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency order within 30 days.

The following map illustrates which state legislatures can terminate a governor’s emergency declaration.

Read on 

Florida governor sets special election in state’s 20th Congressional District for Jan. 11, 2022

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) set the special election for Florida’s 20th Congressional District for Jan. 11, 2022. Party primaries will be held on Nov. 2. The election will fill the vacancy created when Alcee Hastings (D) died on April 6.

The Constitution requires that vacancies in the U.S. House are filled through an election. All states mandate a special election in the event of a vacancy in a U.S. House seat during the first session of Congress. If the vacancy occurs during the second session, requirements differ based on the length of time between when the vacancy occurs and the next general election. 

The process for filling House vacancies is distinct from that of filling vacancies in the U.S. Senate, where 37 states fill vacancies through gubernatorial appointment and the remaining 13 require a special election.

Ballotpedia identified the 57 U.S. House special elections that took place since 2011 and calculated the number of days from the date the vacancy occurred until the date of the special election. There are 280 days from the date Hastings died to the special election date of Jan. 11, 2022, which is the fourth-longest period during that time. The average number of days over that period between the date the vacancy occurred to the corresponding special election is 153 days.

The chart below shows the number of U.S. House special elections since 2011 that occurred within each range of days after the vacancy occurred.

Read on



Police-related ballot measure may be on Nov. 2021 Minneapolis ballot

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Minneapolis group submits signatures for initiative to replace police department with department of public safety

A Minneapolis group—Yes 4 Minneapolis—submitted over 20,000 signatures to the city clerk for an initiative to repeal and replace provisions in the city charter governing the police department. In order for the initiative to appear before voters in 2021, 11,906 signatures—5% of votes cast in Minneapolis in the last statewide general election—must be deemed valid. The city clerk has 10 days to verify signatures after the city’s charter review commission receives the measure at today’s scheduled meeting. If the city clerk finds that not enough signatures are valid, the group has ten days to file additional signatures.

The initiative would remove language concerning the city’s police department from the city charter, including provisions requiring minimum funding for the department and giving the mayor control over the department. It would replace the police department with a department of public safety. Under the initiative, the mayor would nominate—and the city council would appoint—the commissioner of the public safety department. The city council is also considering a potential 2021 charter amendment concerning the structure of the city’s police department.

Last year, the Minneapolis city council approved a measure for the ballot to remove the police department from the city charter and replace it with a department of community safety and violence prevention. This measure would have given the city council, rather than the mayor, control of the department. The Minneapolis Charter Commission did not send the proposal back to the city council until after the city council’s deadline to add the measure to the November 2020 ballot, which prevented the measure from going before voters.

In 2021, Ballotpedia identified five certified local ballot measures concerning police oversight, the powers and structure of oversight commissions, police practices, law enforcement department structure and administration, reductions in or restrictions on law enforcement budgets, law enforcement training requirements, and body and dashboard camera footage.

Voters in Austin and San Antonio, Texas, decided police-related measures last Saturday, May 1. Austin voters approved a measure to authorize the city council to determine how the director of the Office of Police Oversight is appointed or removed. San Antonio voters rejected a measure that would have repealed local authority for collective bargaining with the San Antonio Police Officers Association to negotiate wages, healthcare, leave, and other policies. 

In 2020, Ballotpedia identified 20 notable police-related measures in 10 cities and four counties that qualified for the ballot after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. All 20 measures were approved.

Read on

Redistricting Review – a summary of this week’s map-making news 

The U.S. Census Bureau released the apportionment counts based on the 2020 census for the House of Representatives on April 26, which effectively began the 2021-2022 redistricting cycle. Six states—Texas, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon—gained seats in the U.S. House. Texas gained two, and the rest gained one. Seven states—California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia—each lost a seat.

During this year and next, state legislators, governors, and special redistricting commissions will draft and implement new congressional and state legislative district maps that will be used for the next 10 years. We’ll bring you regular updates here in the Brew about all of the many redistricting ongoings. The pace is expected to be fast-and-furious in the coming months and year ahead. 

Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania

  • The group Democracy Docket filed three separate lawsuits on April 26 asking courts in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania to intervene and set up timelines for enacting court-drawn maps for the 2022 election cycle “in the near-certain event” that governors and legislatures in each state fail to do so. All three lawsuits allege that “there is no reasonable prospect that … political branches will reach consensus to enact” lawful district maps in a timely manner because the three states operate under divided governments (i.e., both the Democratic and Republican parties control at least one of the following: the governorship, the upper chamber of the state legislature, and the lower chamber).

Oklahoma

  • State lawmakers released proposed district maps for the state senate and house on April 21, making Oklahoma the first state in the 2021-2022 cycle to produce draft maps. In lieu of final 2020 census data, which has not yet been made available to the states, lawmakers used the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data for 2015 through 2019 to draft their proposals. 

New York

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) told reporters on April 27 that he was considering the state’s “legal options” with respect to New York’s loss of one congressional seat to reapportionment. According to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, New York could have kept this seat if 89 additional residents had been counted in New York. According to Janna Johnson, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, no state has ever succeeded in challenging apportionment counts in court.

Pennsylvania

  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced the appointment of Mark Nordenberg as chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission on May 3. Nordenberg joins Sen. Majority Leader Kim Ward (R), Sen. Minority Leader Jay Costa (D), House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R), and House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton (D). The state supreme court appointed Nordenberg as chair after the four other members of the commission failed to agree on an appointment. The commission has the sole authority to draft and implement new state legislative district maps.  

Read on 

Local roundup: Results from Saturday’s municipal elections in Texas

Tuesday’s Brew reviewed the results of Saturday’s local ballot measure elections in Austin, Dallas, Lubbock, and San Antonio. Voters also cast ballots in local and municipal elections across the state. Here are the highlights from those results:

San Antonio

  • Mayor Ron Nirenberg won re-election among a 14-candidate field, receiving 62% of the vote.  Greg Brockhouse, who lost the runoff election to Nirenberg in 2019, 51% to 49%, finished second with 31.5% of the vote. Nirenberg was first elected San Antonio mayor in 2017, defeating then-incumbent Ivy Taylor in a runoff. Media outlets have reported that Nirenberg identifies as an independent.

Fort Worth

  • Deborah Peoples and Mattie Parker advanced to a June 5 runoff from a 10-candidate field, with Peoples receiving 33.6% of the vote and Parker getting 30.8%. Brian Byrd, the third-place finisher, received 14.7%. Incumbent Betsy Price, who the Texas Tribune identifies as a Republican, did not run for re-election. Although municipal elections in Fort Worth are officially nonpartisan, Peoples is the chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party. Parker has not previously held elected office. She received endorsements from Price and state Reps. Craig Goldman (R) and Phil King (R).

Arlington

  • Jim Ross and Michael Glaspie advanced to a runoff from among seven candidates. Ross received 47.9% of the vote, and Glaspie received 21.3% of the vote. Incumbent Jeff Williams could not seek re-election due to term limits. Local news outlets identify Williams as a Republican. The Arlington Spectator, a local blog, posted a spreadsheet showing that Glaspie had voted in two of the previous six Republican primaries and that Ross had voted in two of the previous six Democratic primaries.

Read on



Staff favorites about state legislative committees

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Fun facts and finds about state legislative committees  

Our staff recently updated our extensive list of state legislative committee information and added current membership information for 2,083 committees. As you may expect, government structures vary widely among the states. For example, we added information for 14 committees in Nebraska and 87 committees in Mississippi.

We had a lot of fun (no, really) with this work. We wanted to share some of our staff’s favorite committee finds and fun facts with you. 

But first: What do these committees do? State legislative committees are groups of legislators set up with a specific policy or jurisdictional focus. After a bill is introduced in a chamber, it’s referred to the committee responsible for that policy area. Committees may hold private or public hearings to get feedback before approving, rejecting, or amending the bill. A committee must typically approve a bill before it gets a full chamber vote. There are committees for individual legislative chambers (such as state House and Senate) as well as joint legislative committees that include members from both chambers.

Membership

Of the 2,083 committees we found, 88% of them have 20 or fewer current members (48% have between one and 10 members, and 40% have between 11 and 20). The remaining 12% have more than 20 members.

We found five committees with 50 or more members. The two committees with the most members—the North Carolina House Appropriations Committee and the Georgia House Appropriations Committee—have more committee members than 15 states have total members in their House of Representatives. Four of the five largest committees are either ways and means or appropriations committees. These committees focus on budgets.

Committees on Committees

A favorite fun fact among our staff was the number of Committees on Committees we came across. Committee committees exist in the Kentucky House and Senate, Montana Senate, Pennsylvania House, and New Mexico Senate (and possibly other chambers).

According to the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s 2021 House Rules, its House Committee on Committee has the following jurisdiction:

The Committee on Committees shall have supervision and control over all employees of the House, whether elected by the House or provided by the Legislative Research Commission, and the Committee on Committees shall see that they perform all of their duties to the House and the members thereof. 

Find more information about your state legislature at the link below.

Read more

Voters decided local ballot measures in four Texas cities on Saturday

Voters cast ballots in municipal and school board elections across Texas on Saturday. And as we noted yesterday, Susan Wright (R) and Jake Ellzey (R) advanced to a runoff from a 23-candidate field in the special election to fill the vacancy in Texas’ 6th Congressional District. The official date of that election has not yet been scheduled. In the meantime, let’s look back at some other results from Saturday.

Voters also decided local ballot measures, including 16 we tracked in Austin, Dallas, Lubbock, and San Antonio. Ten measures were approved and six were defeated. Here are the highlights from those results:

Austin:

  • Voters approved five of eight measures, including a sit-lie ordinance, changes to the city’s police oversight office, and ranked-choice voting. Four of those measures:
    • Proposition B prohibits and creates criminal penalties for sitting, lying down, sleeping outdoors, and soliciting money at certain times and in certain areas of the city. It was approved 58% to 42%.
    • Proposition C gives the city council authority to determine who appoints the Office of Police Oversight. Currently, the city manager appoints the director of the Office of Police Oversight. It was approved 63% to 37%.
    • Proposition D aligns the city’s mayoral elections with presidential election years instead of gubernatorial elections years. The change takes effect in 2024, meaning the mayor elected in 2022 would only serve a two-year term. It was approved 66% to 34%.
    • Proposition E establishes ranked-choice voting for city elections in the event that ranked-choice voting becomes allowed under Texas law. It was approved 58% to 42%.
  • Dallas
    • Voters defeated—65% to 35%—a city charter amendment that would have eliminated a requirement that members of city boards or commissions be registered voters.
  • Lubbock
    • Voters approved Proposition A by a vote of 62% to 38%. The measure amended city ordinances to ban abortions within the city and to declare Lubbock a Sanctuary City for the Unborn. Twenty-two other Texas cities and two in Nebraska have also banned abortions in city ordinance. Lubbock is the largest city (pop. 258,862 in 2019) and the only city with an active abortion clinic to do so.
  • San Antonio
    • Voters defeated a ballot measure that would have repealed local authority for collective bargaining with police officers to negotiate wages, healthcare, leave, and other policies.

To read more about these measures and others that voters decided on Saturday, click the link below.

Read on 

Applications now open for our Volunteer Fellows Program this summer

Do you know a high school or college student who loves politics? Maybe one who’s looking for volunteer experience? Applications are now open for the Summer 2021 class of our Ballotpedia Volunteer Fellows Program!

The Ballotpedia Fellows Program was formed in June 2020 to provide students who are interested in politics with a service opportunity working directly with our staff to gain subject matter expertise in political research and analysis. 

Ballotpedia Fellows work hand-in-hand with our staff as we expand our data-driven analysis of American politics. Our Summer program will be highly focused on data analysis with projects focused on increasing voter ballot information for 2021 elections.

If you’re interested, please submit your application by this Friday, May 7. Click here or follow the link below to find out more about the program and download an application. And if you have any questions, you can email the program’s director, Sara Horton, at Sara.Horton@Ballotpedia.org.
Read on



Supreme Court began hearing arguments by conference call one year ago this week

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week

The U.S. Supreme Court wraps up arguments in its 2020-2021 term on May 4. One year ago that day, SCOTUS heard oral arguments by conference call for the first time in history. The court had postponed oral arguments starting in March of 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a sampling of coronavirus-related policy changes and events that happened one year ago this week.

Stay-at-home orders:

  • On May 4, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) allowed their statewide stay-at-home orders to expire. 
  • On May 6, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) allowed the statewide stay-at-home order to expire. 

Travel restrictions

  • On May 4, the Virginia Department of Health recommended that visitors or residents self-quarantine for 14 days if they had traveled internationally, on a cruise ship or river boat, or to an area of the U.S. with high rates of community spread.

School closures:

  • On May 4, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that schools would remain closed to in-person instruction for the rest of the academic year. The order applied to public and private schools. Private schools were required to remain closed through June 30.

Election changes:

  • On May 4, Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill (D) announced that all eligible voters in the Aug. 11 statewide primary and Nov. 3 general election would automatically receive absentee/mail-in ballot applications.
  • On May 5, Judge Norman Moon, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, approved a settlement between the parties in League of Women Voters of Virginia v. Virginia State Board of Elections. As a result, the witness requirement for absentee voting in the June 23 primary was suspended. Judge Analisa Torres, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered the New York State Board of Elections to reinstate the June 23 Democratic presidential preference primary, which the board had previously canceled.

Federal government responses:

  • On May 4, the Supreme Court heard arguments for the first time by conference call.

Mask requirements:

  • On May 6, a Massachusetts order requiring individuals to wear masks in public places where social distancing is not possible took effect. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) issued the order on May 1. Massachusetts was the 12th state to issue a statewide mask mandate.  

Twenty-five states had statewide mask orders in effect, including 20 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and five out of the 27 states with Republican governors, as of Friday, April 30.

For the most recent coronavirus news, including the latest on vaccines and mask mandates, subscribe to our daily newsletter, Documenting America’s Path to Recovery

Read on

Two Republicans advance to runoff for Texas’ 6th Congressional District

Susan Wright (R) and Jake Ellzey (R) advanced to a runoff from a 23-candidate field in the special election to fill the vacancy in Texas’ 6th Congressional District on May 1. Since both candidates are Republicans, the seat will not change party hands as a result of this election. As of May 2, state officials had not yet announced a runoff date.

Wright received 19.2% of the vote to Ellzey’s 13.8%. The two other candidates to receive at least 10% were Jana Lynne Sanchez (D) with 13.4% and Brian Harrison (R) with 10.8%. Sanchez fell 354 votes short of the runoff based on unofficial results.

The previous incumbent, Ronald Wright (R), died from COVID-19 related complications on Feb. 7, 2021. Susan Wright is Ronald Wright’s widow. Former President Donald Trump (R) endorsed her on April 26.

The district became more competitive in both presidential and congressional elections from 2012 to 2020. In 2020, Donald Trump (R) won the district 51-48, running behind Wright, who won 53-44. In 2016, Trump won the district 54-42, while Wright won 58-39. In 2012, Mitt Romney (R) won the district 58-41 while then-Rep. Joe Barton (R) won re-election 58-39. Midterm elections in the district have followed the same trend. In 2018, Wright won re-election 53-45, while Barton won 61-36 in 2014.

In this special election, Democrats earned about 37% of the votes cast, returning to a 2014 level for the district.

This is the third special congressional election held this year for the 117th Congress. Three others have been scheduled so far for New Mexico’s 1st District and Ohio’s 11th and 15th districts. Ten special elections were held for the 116th Congress (2019-2020) and 17 were held for the 115th Congress (2017-2018).

Read on

Florida to vote in 2022 on abolishing the Florida Constitution Revision Commission

The Florida legislature approved a measure for the 2022 ballot that would abolish the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). The measure must be approved by 60% of voters. The Florida CRC is a 37-member commission provided for in the state constitution to review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution. It has convened every 20 years since 1977. The CRC refers constitutional amendments directly to the ballot for a public vote. Florida is the only state with a commission that can refer constitutional amendments to the ballot. 

For this measure to appear on the ballot, 60% of each legislative chamber was required to support it. Florida’s state Senate approved it by a vote of 27 to 12 on March 25. All 24 Senate Republicans joined three Democrats voting in favor. All votes against were by Democrats. Florida’s state House approved it, 86-28, on April 27. Seventy-five Republicans joined 11 Democrats voting ‘yes,’ and all 28 ‘no’ votes were by Democrats.

The CRC’s meeting in 2017-2018 received 2,013 proposals from the public and 103 from commission members. They referred eight measures to the 2018 ballot. All were approved except one. The Second Judicial Court ruled that the measure’s ballot language was misleading, blocking it from the ballot. 

Beyond what is required in Section 2 of Article XI of the Florida Constitution, the CRC sets its own rules and procedures. Click here to learn more about the rules by which the commission referred measures to the ballot.

While no other state has a constitution revision commission that meets automatically like Florida’s, 44 states have rules that govern how a constitutional convention—a gathering of elected delegates who propose revisions and amendments to a state constitution—can be called. Click here for information on state constitutional conventions.

Read on



2021’s third congressional special election is tomorrow

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Texas’ 6th Congressional District special election is tomorrow, May 1

A special election to fill the vacancy in Texas’ 6th Congressional District will be held tomorrow—May 1. Twenty-three candidates—11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, one Libertarian, and one independent—are running to represent this suburban Fort Worth district. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff election—the date of which would be determined following tomorrow’s election. The previous incumbent, Ronald Wright (R), died from COVID-19-related complications on Feb. 7.

Last week in the Brew, we presented some noteworthy endorsements in the race. Since then, former President Donald Trump endorsed Susan Wright, the previous incumbent’s widow. You can find more endorsements here. You can also see survey responses we got from six candidates.

The district has become more competitive in both presidential and congressional elections since 2012. That year, Rep. Joe Barton (R) won re-election 58% to 39% over Kenneth Sanders (D). In 2020, Wright won re-election over Stephen Daniel (D), 53% to 44%. In presidential races, Barack Obama received 41% of the district’s votes in 2012, and Joe Biden got 48% last year. 

This is the third special congressional election so far this year. Three more special elections will occur between June 1 and Nov. 2, with a fourth—Florida’s 20th Congressional District—not yet scheduled. An average of 12.5 special elections were held in each of the four Congresses from the 113th to the 116th. 

Read on

The Biden administration’s first 100 days: A round-up 

April 29 marked the 100th day of Joe Biden’s (D) presidency. And today—April 30—is the final day of Ballotpedia’s Transition Tracker—a newsletter that covered Biden’s transition team, Cabinet nominations and appointments, and the new administration’s major policy actions. Here is a round-up of facts and figures from Biden’s first 100 days in office. We’ll focus on five areas—executive actions, Cabinet confirmations, judicial nominations, legislation, and tie-breaking votes. 

Executive Actions

Biden has issued: 

  • 42 executive orders
  • 14 presidential memoranda
  • 49 proclamations, and 
  • 10 notices. 

Biden’s 42 executive orders are the most from a first-term president in his first 100 days since President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) in 1933.

Cabinet

Twenty-one of Biden’s 23 Cabinet members have been confirmed.

The two outstanding Cabinet positions are the directors of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Eric Lander, Biden’s nominee for OSTP director, had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on April 29. If Lander is confirmed, it will be the first time a presidential science advisor is in the Cabinet.

Biden initially nominated Neera Tanden, the president of Center for American Progress, to serve as OMB director. She withdrew from consideration in March. Biden has not yet named a replacement nominee. 

Judicial nominations

Biden nominated 10 individuals to the federal circuit and district courts. Five of the nominees are awaiting committee hearings. The other five are awaiting a committee vote. Biden also nominated a judge to the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.

Legislation

Eleven bills have become law in the 117th Congress. The largest of those is the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was signed into law on March 11. 

Tie-breaking votes

Vice President Kamala Harris (D) has cast four tie-breaking votes in the U.S. Senate. Two of the votes related to a budget resolution and one to the American Rescue Plan Act. The fourth vote was to discharge the nomination of Colin Kahl for under secretary of defense for policy.

George Washington inaugurated 232 years ago today

Image from the National Archives

The first presidential inauguration was 232 years ago today, when George Washington took the oath of office and delivered an address to Congress. Here are some facts about George Washington’s inauguration.

  • Washington’s inauguration took place at Federal Hall in New York City, the temporary U.S. capital. New York City was the first U.S. capital after the Constitution established Congress. In 1790, the capital was moved to Philadelphia, and then to Washington, D.C., in 1800.
  • Horseback and other arduous travel modes delayed finalizing the presidential election and Washington’s inauguration. The Library of Congress notes, “Until the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, the official day for presidential inaugurations was March 4.” But on that day in 1789, neither the House nor the Senate had the quorum necessary to conduct the official count of electoral votes. Both chambers had achieved quorums by April 6, when they counted the votes. Washington himself needed time to get from Virginia to New York City for the inauguration. 
  • Washington hand-wrote his inaugural address. In cursive. View images of the document, like the one above, from the National Archives here.

Read on



4 facts about the Senate parliamentarian

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

4 facts about the Senate parliamentarian

The U.S. Senate’s parliamentarian—Elizabeth MacDonough—has been in the news this year for rulings she made regarding federal budget reconciliation procedures. If you follow the legislative process in Congress, you may have come across a newsletter or a news story that has mentioned the parliamentarian or Elizabeth MacDonough. 

Given this prominence, I thought it would be a good time to dig deeper into what the parliamentarian’s role is. The Senate parliamentarian is a nonpartisan advisor to the chamber on procedural issues and legislative activity. During a Senate meeting, the parliamentarian—or a staff member from her office—sits on the Senate dais and advises the presiding officer.

If the Senate intends to pass certain budgetary measures, it matters whether those are considered new legislation or the reconciliation of a previously approved measure. Senators are not allowed to filibuster reconciliation bills and can therefore pass them by a simple majority. 

Here are four facts you may not have known about the Senate parliamentarian.

Who hires the parliamentarian?

The secretary of the Senate hires the parliamentarian. The secretary can also fire the parliamentarian. The Senate selects the secretary at the beginning of each Congress.

What are the parliamentarian’s responsibilities?

The Senate parliamentarian’s duties include the following:

  • Provide advice and assistance on legislative rules and procedures
  • Advise the presiding officer on the appropriate procedure, statements, and responses during a meeting of the Senate
  • Offer written guidance on procedural questions
  • Recommend the referral of measures to the appropriate committee
  • Maintain and publish procedural rules

Here are two recent examples of actions the parliamentarian took: 

  • In February, MacDonough advised the Senate that a provision in an initial version of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 seeking to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 was merely incidental to the bill, which disqualified it from being considered through the reconciliation process.
  • Earlier in April, MacDonough advised that a revised budget resolution could use the reconciliation process in the same fiscal year. This means that the reconciliation process used for the American Rescue Plan earlier this year could be used again for additional budget-related bills, such as the American Jobs Plan, currently under debate.

How many parliamentarians have there been?

Charles Watkins was the first Senate parliamentarian, serving from 1935 to 1964. Two parliamentarians served two nonconsecutive stints each—Robert Dove (1981-1987, 1995-2001) and Alan Frumin (1987-1995, 2001-2012). MacDonough has served since 2012 and is the first woman to fill the position. 

What happened before 1935?

There was no parliamentarian. Issues were resolved by Senate staff.

According to the U.S. Senate’s official website, “In 1923 Watkins replaced the ailing assistant secretary of the Senate as unofficial advisor on floor procedure to the presiding officer. From that time, he became the body’s parliamentarian, in fact if not in title. Finally, in 1935, at a time when an increased volume of New Deal-era legislation expanded opportunities for procedural confusion and mischief, he gained the actual title.”

Read on 

Montana voters to decide changes to state supreme court elections

Next year, Montana voters will decide whether to begin electing state supreme court justices by district. Currently, the court’s seven justices are elected in statewide elections. The elections are nonpartisan. 

Under the measure—a legislatively referred state statute—current associate justices would be assigned district numbers according to their seat number, and the chief justice would be assigned the seventh district. Associate justices may seek re-election in the district assigned to them or resign from their current district and file to run in another district. The change would take effect after the 2024 general elections.

Four current judges on the court were elected. Democratic governors appointed two judges and a Republican governor appointed one judge. (See our report on state court partisanship here.) Montana Supreme Court justices serve eight-year terms. If there is a vacancy, the governor may appoint an interim justice (or the chief justice does so, if the governor does not), subject to state Senate confirmation. Appointed judges hold office until the next general election, when they can run for election to complete the remainder of the unexpired term. Incumbents who run unopposed in a general election are subject to a retention election. 

The 2022 measure is similar to a ballot measure that was removed from the ballot prior to the June 2012 primary election. District Court Judge James Reynolds ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who argued that the measure deprived Montana voters of the right to vote for all state supreme court justices. Reynolds said the measure, which required supreme court candidates to live inside proposed regional districts, would contradict the state constitution. The state supreme court upheld that decision in a 6-1 ruling. The 2022 measure would not require justices to live in the same district they wish to represent.

The map below shows how judges are selected in each state’s highest courts. Voters elect state supreme court justices in 22 states. Voters in seven states—Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Oklahoma—elect state supreme court justices by district. 

Read on 

SCOTUS grants review for three more cases in 2021-2022 term

The U.S. Supreme Court accepted three more cases for review during its 2021-2022 term on April 26. With these, the court has agreed to hear 14 cases during the term, scheduled to begin on Oct. 4. Between the 2007 and 2019 terms, SCOTUS released opinions in 991 cases, averaging 76 cases per year.

Here’s a brief summary of the three cases:

  • New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett concerns a person’s right to carry a firearm for self-defense under the Constitution’s Second Amendment. The question presented to the court is, “Whether the State’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.” 
  • Houston Community College System v. Wilson concerns free speech protections and limitations on an elected governing body’s authority to censure a member for their speech. The question presented to the court asks, “Does the First Amendment restrict the authority of an elected body to issue a censure resolution in response to a member’s speech?”
  • United States v. Zubaydah concerns the state-secrets privilege. The question the court will decide is, “Whether the court of appeals erred when it rejected the United States’ assertion of the state-secrets privilege based on the court’s own assessment of potential harms to the national security, and required discovery to proceed further under 28 U.S.C. 1782(a) against former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractors on matters concerning alleged clandestine CIA activities.”

Tuesday—May 4—is the final day of scheduled oral arguments for the 2020-2021 term. The court agreed to hear 62 cases during this term. Five cases were removed from the argument calendar. During the 2019-2020 term, the court accepted 74 cases for argument. Of those, 12 were postponed to the 2020-2021 term due to the coronavirus pandemic. One case was never scheduled for argument and another case was dismissed without argument after the petitioner died.
Read on