Ethan Rice

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Julia Letlow wins Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District special election

Julia Letlow (R) defeated 11 other candidates to win the special election for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District on March 20. Letlow received 65% of the vote, followed by Candy Christophe (D) with 27% of the vote. Under Louisiana’s majority-vote system, Letlow won the election outright by receiving more than 50% of the vote.

Julia Letlow is the widow of Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R), who was elected to represent the district on Dec. 5, 2020. Luke Letlow died from complications related to COVID-19 on Dec. 29. Julia Letlow has worked in marketing and as an administrator at the University of Louisiana Monroe and Tulane University.

Before the 2020 general election, Louisiana’s 5th District was represented by Ralph Abraham (R), who did not seek re-election. The district was last represented by a Democrat in 2004 when Rep. Rodney Alexander (R) changed his partisan affiliation from Democratic to Republican. In the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump (R) defeated Joe Biden (D) 65% to 34% in the district.

Troy Carter, Karen Peterson advance to runoff in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District

State Senators Troy Carter (D) and Karen Peterson (D) received the most votes in the March 20 special election for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. Carter received 36% of the vote, and Peterson received 23%. Under Louisiana’s majority-vote system, Carter and Peterson will advance to a runoff election on April 24. Fifteen candidates—8 Democrats, 4 Republicans, 2 Independents, and one Libertarian—ran in the primary.

The 2nd Congressional District became vacant after Cedric Richmond (D) was appointed senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. President Joe Biden (D) announced Richmond’s appointment on November 17, 2020

Richmond was first elected in 2011. Since 2000, the seat has been occupied by a Democrat except from 2008 to 2010, when it was represented by Joseph Cao (R). Richmond was re-elected in 2020 with 63.9% of the vote.

House Administration Committee votes to consider challenge to results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District

The House Administration Committee moved to consider Rita Hart’s (D) challenge of the results in last November’s election in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District March 10. The committee voted in favor of considering the challenge and tabling a motion by Hart’s opponent, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), to dismiss the appeal. The decision will allow Hart to present evidence in support of her petition to the committee, which will then present a full report to the House recommending who should fill the seat.

After the November general election, Iowa officials conducted three recounts of the results in the 2nd district. Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) ordered a recount in Jasper County on Nov. 6 and one in Lucas County on Nov. 10.  On Nov. 13, Hart requested a full recount of votes in all 24 counties in the district. After this recount, Miller-Meeks was certified as the winner by a six-vote margin on Nov. 30.

On Dec. 2, Hart announced she would contest the election before the House Administration Committee. She submitted a notice of contest on Dec. 22 that said 11 ballots were excluded due to poll worker errors and another 11 were excluded because of unsealed or damaged envelopes, having the voter’s signature in the wrong place, or having been left in a dropbox outside the county. The notice asked the House to invalidate the state-certified results, count the ballots Hart said were excluded, and initiate a uniform hand recount in all 24 counties in the district. Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated in the House on Jan. 3, and on Jan. 21, she filed a motion asking Congress to dismiss Hart’s challenge of the election results, saying that Hart should have pursued the matter through state procedures rather than filing a petition with the House.

After the House Administration Committee announced it would move forward with the investigation, Hart said the decision helps ensure that every vote is counted: “At least twenty-two Iowans’ legally-cast ballots still have not been counted due to a string of errors. We are glad to see the House Committee on Administration taking the next step towards ensuring that every legally-cast vote is counted in this race and that all Iowans’ voices are heard. Every legal voter in this country has a right to have their ballot counted and the remedy here is clear — count the ballots,” she said. Miller-Meeks said: “In Iowa, the votes were counted, recounted, and in some cases – recounted again. Now, Rita Hart is asking democrat politicians in DC to elect her because the voters of Iowa did not.”

If the committee recommends the matter to the full House, the chamber will decide the outcome by a majority vote as provided for in Article I, Section 5, of the U.S. Constitution. Historically, most contested election cases heard by the committee were dismissed. Out of 107 contested election cases filed between 1933 and 2009, the candidate who contested the election only won three times. The November 3 election was the narrowest margin of victory in a U.S. House race since 1984, when Francis McCloskey (D) defeated Richard McIntyre (R) by four votes in Indiana’s 8th Congressional District.

Additional reading:

Early voting begins for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District

Image of several stickers with the words "I voted"

Early voting begins March 6 and is open until March 13 for Louisiana’s 2021 elections, including a special election in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. The election takes place on March 20. Fifteen candidates are running to fill the seat left vacant when then President-elect Joe Biden (D) picked Cedric Richmond (D), who represented the district since 2011, to serve as a senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Louisiana elections use the majority vote system in which all candidates compete in the same primary. A candidate can win the election outright by receiving more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate wins more than 50%, the top two vote recipients from the primary advance to the general election, no matter their partisan affiliation. If necessary, a runoff election will be held on April 24, 2021.

There are eight Democrats, four Republicans, two Independents, and one Libertarian running for the seat. Out of this field of candidates, media attention has largely focused on Troy Carter (D), Karen Peterson (D), and Gary Chambers (D). Carter represents Louisiana State Senate District 7 and Peterson represents Louisiana State Senate District 5. Chambers is an activist and publisher from Baton Rouge.

Both Carter and Peterson emphasized their experience and careers as lawmakers. “Throughout my career I’ve remained laser focused on the simple ways to improve people’s day to day lives – like guaranteeing access to COVID-19 19 vaccine, equality pay for women, criminal justice reform and fighting for a living wage,” said Carter.

Peterson said “After Katrina hit, I told the truth, held people accountable, and fought to help our families and our businesses rebuild. And that’s what I’ll do in Congress to lead us out of this pandemic.”

Chambers, who has never run for public office, said district lawmakers have focused too heavily on New Orleans and that people in the district “want a leader that’s concerned about all people, not just a select demographic of the district.”

Democrats have represented Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District since 2000, except between 2009 and 2011, when Anh “Joseph” Cao (R) held the seat. The 2020 Cook Partisan Voter Index for Louisiana’s 2nd district was D+25, meaning that in the previous two presidential elections, this district’s results were 25 percentage points more Democratic than the national average.

A special election will also take place on March 20 in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District.

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Alaska House organizes under multi-partisan coalition control

On Feb. 18, the Alaska House of Representatives organized under the control of a multipartisan coalition caucus, voting 22-17 to approve a plan of organization placing members of the coalition in charge of committees. Since the start of the legislative session on Jan. 19, the House was split evenly between a Republican bloc and a coalition of Democrats, independents, and Louise Stutes (R). The group was joined by Reps. Sara Rasmussen (R) and Kelly Merrick (R) in the vote on organizing the House (another legislator, Rep. Mike Prax (R), was not present for the vote). Though the coalition caucus received enough votes to organize the chamber, two of the legislators who voted alongside the coalition to assign committee membership —Reps. Sara Rasmussen (R) and Geran Tarr (D)—said they would not join either the coalition or Republican caucuses, leaving both groups without a numerical majority in the 40-member House.

Rasmussen said she would serve as an independent Republican not affiliated with the coalition majority or the Republican minority. With Stutes and Kelly Merrick (R) already a part of the coalition caucus, Rasmussen’s decision left the Republican caucus with 18 members. Tarr (D) also said she would vote independent of the caucus, leaving it with 20 members—14 Democrats, four independents, and two Republicans. Though both Rasmussen and Tarr voted with the coalition caucus to approve committee assignments, neither has stated whether they will continue to support the coalition in future votes. “We’re still working on things here,” Tarr said. Rasmussen said that although she hasn’t “made an agreement to vote on anything,” she hopes that “with compromise, there will be some good policy that can move forward.”

Under the approved organization plan, Rep. Chris Tuck (D) will serve as majority leader and Rep. Cathy Tilton (R) will serve as minority leader. Reps. Neal Foster (D) and Kelly Merrick (R) will co-chair the House Finance Committee and Rep. Bryce Edgmon (I) will lead the Rules Committee, which determines whether bills receive a floor vote. Out of the other eight standing committees in the House, six will be chaired or co-chaired by Democrats, one will be chaired by an independent, and one will be co-chaired by a Democrat and an independent.

The situation in the Alaska House is unusual; generally, the party with a numerical majority organizes to select presiding officers, appoint committee members, and vote on legislation. A coalition caucus was formed in the House after the 2018 elections despite Republicans winning a majority of the seats in the chamber, but that coalition was composed of 25 members, four more than the 21 votes needed to assign committee membership and pass legislation. Republicans maintained a numerical majority of 21 members after the 2020 elections, but Stutes’ decision to join the coalition group left each faction with 20 members. Merrick later joined the coalition bloc as well, but Tarr’s decision to vote separately from the coalition kept it from reaching 21 members.

Jennifer Fletcher, a state legislative librarian, said she did not know of any previous case where a 20-member caucus negotiated with other legislators to acquire the votes necessary to control the chamber. Forrest Nabors, chair of the political science department at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said that the situation in the House was “highly unusual,” but that, in Alaska, “party affiliations are not the same as they are in other states and in the country in general. Hence, I think we err in trying to frame majorities and minorities in our state in terms of parties. For the last three legislative sessions, that mold has been formally broken, and our nomenclature should recognize that break.”

Out of the 99 legislative chambers in the country, the Alaska House is the only chamber under the control of a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition after the 2020 elections, with Republicans controlling 61 legislative chambers and Democrats controlling 37.  Alaska is one of 12 states under divided government as opposed to a state government trifecta in which one party holds the governorship, a majority in the state senate, and a majority in the state house. There are currently 15 Democratic and 23 Republican trifectas.

Additional reading:

Alaska House of Representatives elects speaker for 2021 session

On Feb. 11, twenty-four days after the 2021 legislative session began on Jan. 19th, the Alaska House of Representatives elected a permanent speaker of the House. Members elected Rep. Louise Stutes (R) in a 21-19 vote.

Since the start of the session, House members had been divided between supporters of a Republican-led majority and those favoring a multipartisan coalition. Republicans won a 21-19 majority in the 2020 general election, but in December, Stutes joined the coalition bloc composed of 16 Democrats and three independents, leaving each faction with 20 members.

In January, Reps. Bart LeBon (R), Laddie Shaw (R), and Neal Foster (D) were nominated for the speakership, but each vote ended in an even 20-20 split. On Feb. 4th, the House unanimously elected Rep. Josiah Patkotak (I) as temporary speaker. Rep. Ben Carpenter (R) said the House Republican Caucus nominated Patkotak, who is a member of the coalition bloc, to “alleviate the Lt. Governor from his temporary responsibility as presiding officer and to move the discussion forward about finding a permanent presiding officer.”

Rep. Kelly Merrick’s (R) vote for Stutes ultimately broke the recurring tie votes. Merrick said, “Today, I voted to elect Republican Representative Louise Stutes as Speaker of the House, ending more than three weeks of deadlock and allowing the Legislature to move forward. It was by no means an easy decision to make, but it ensured that no matter how organization comes together, there will be a Republican Speaker.”

The three-week period without a House speaker is the second-longest in the state’s history. In 2018, similar divisions kept House members from electing a speaker until Feb. 14th, 2019, when a coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (I) as House speaker and agreed to split other key leadership and committee positions between the two parties.

With split control of the House and Republican control of the Senate and governor’s office, Alaska’s trifecta status remains divided. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. There are currently 23 Republican trifectas, 15 Democratic trifectas, and 12 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control. After the 2020 elections, Republicans had a net gain of two trifectas and two states under divided government became trifectas.

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Alaska House of Representatives elects temporary speaker

Forty-six state legislatures are currently in session. The Alaska House of Representatives has been in session since Jan. 19. But no regular business has taken place because legislators have not elected a permanent speaker or organized committees.

Partisan control of the House was uncertain after the 2020 elections, split between those favoring a Republican-led majority and those supporting a multi-party coalition. Republicans won 21 of 40 seats, but Rep. Louise Stutes (R) joined a coalition of 16 Democrats and three independents, leaving legislators split into two 20-member factions.

The Alaska House elected Josiah Patkotak (I) unanimously as temporary speaker on Feb. 4. Patkotak was elected to his first term on Nov. 3. He is presiding over the chamber until a permanent speaker is elected, taking over for Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) who had filled the role of presiding officer since the legislative session began. Legislators have not submitted any nominations for a permanent speaker as of Feb. 9.

Alaska has a Republican governor, and Republicans control the state Senate, so final control of the chamber will also determine the state’s trifecta status.

The Alaska House faced a similar situation after the 2018 elections. That year, Republican-aligned candidates won 23 seats, and Democratic-aligned candidates won 17. A coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (I) as House speaker on Feb. 14, 2019. Edgmon was originally elected as a Democrat but changed his party affiliation to independent before he was elected speaker. Both parties split control of key leadership positions and committees.

Control of Alaska House of Representatives remains uncertain after Alaska Supreme Court decision

The Alaska Supreme Court confirmed Alaska Representative Lance Pruitt’s (R) 11-vote loss to Democratic challenger Liz Snyder on Friday, January 8. The court ruled that Pruitt did not provide sufficient evidence to sustain his challenge of the election results.

Pruitt’s loss means that control of the chamber will likely remain uncertain until at least January 19, when lawmakers will convene in Juneau for the start of the legislative session. As a result of this decision, the Alaska House of Representatives is currently split between a 20-member Republican faction and a multi-partisan coalition of 16 Democrats (including Snyder), three independents, and Republican Louise Stutes. Had Pruitt won, it could have given the Republican wing of the House the 21 votes needed to control the chamber.

Pruitt’s lawsuit centered on the argument that the state did not adequately notify the public when the Alaska Division of Elections moved a polling location and that the Division of Elections did not provide suitable election security in regard to absentee ballots. Pruitt’s attorney in the case, Stacey Stone, said that Pruitt will not pursue any further action to contest the results of the election. “The integrity of our election system serves as the foundation of our government. We respect the decision of the court today, but we hope the Division (of Elections) addresses the issues that occurred in Precinct 915 so that these type of events do not occur in the future, and that all voters constitutional rights are guaranteed. We await the supreme court’s full opinion as to how they addressed the multiple points on appeal,” Stone said. After the verdict was announced, Snyder said, “It was great to see that come out the way we anticipated it.”

Although Republicans won a 23-16 majority with one independent in the 2018 elections, a coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (I) as House speaker on February 14, 2019. The parties split control of key leadership positions and committees and Edgmon was elected speaker after leaving the Democratic Party. The House majority consisted of 15 Democrats, eight Republicans, and two members unaffiliated with either party. Of the eight Republicans who joined the majority coalition in 2018, only Steve M. Thompson and Louise Stutes were re-elected in 2020.

Eighty-six of 99 state legislative chambers across 44 states held general elections on November 3, 2020. Heading into the 2020 elections, Republicans had majorities in 59 chambers and Democrats had majorities in 39 chambers. Partisan control flipped in two chambers—Republicans gained majorities in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and the New Hampshire State Senate.

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Seventy-five U.S. congressional elections were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer

Seventy-five congressional races in 2020 were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer, including eight for U.S. Senate and 67 for U.S. House. Thirty-five races were decided by fewer than five percentage points; three of those were U.S. Senate races and 32 were U.S. House races.

Democratic candidates won 40 of these elections and Republican candidates won 35. Out of the races decided by fewer than five percentage points, Democrats won 22 and Republicans won 13.

Fourteen U.S. House races remained uncalled as of Nov. 18, and eight seemed likely to be decided by fewer than 10 percentage points.

In comparison, 102 races were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer in 2018. Of these, 12 were elections for the U.S. Senate and 90 were elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 49 of these elections and Republican candidates won 53.

Fifty races in 2018 were decided by fewer than five percentage points: five elections for the U.S. Senate and 45 elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 24 of these elections and Republican candidates won 26.

There were 42 and 56 congressional races decided by 10 percentage points or fewer in 2016 and 2014, respectively. In 2016, nine were elections for the U.S. Senate and 33 were elections for the U.S. House, with candidates from each major party winning 21 of the elections. In 2014, seven were elections for the U.S. Senate and 49 were elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 32 of these elections and Republican candidates won 24.

For races decided by fewer than five percentage points, there were 22 in 2016 and 31 in 2014. In 2016, five elections were for the U.S. Senate and 17 were for the U.S. House seats, with Democratic candidates winning 14 of these elections and Republicans winning eight. In 2014, five were elections for the U.S. Senate and 26 were for the U.S. House, with Democratic candidates winning 17 of these elections and Republican candidates winning 14.