Geoff Pallay

Geoff Pallay is editor-in-chief at Ballotpedia. Contact us at

229 years ago today, the first SCOTUS session

The Supreme Court hears its next case in a few weeks. But 229 years ago today, the Court’s first session was commencing.
On February 1, 1790, SCOTUS met to convene for the first time in New York City. No quorum was met that day, however, so the court officially came to order for the first time the following day.
President George Washington nominated six initial justices to that first court. They were:
  • John Jay (Chief Justice)
  • John Rutledge
  • William Cushing
  • John Blair
  • James Wilson
  • Robert Harrison
The size of the United States Supreme Court changed six times during the 19th century, from as many as 10 justices to as few as five.
Click here to learn more about the history of SCOTUS.

On this day, the 13th Amendment was approved in Congress

One-hundred-fifty-four years ago today, in 1865, the United States Congress passed the 13th amendment. The vote was 119 to 56— clearing the two-thirds majority by seven votes. The amendment was later ratified by the states and abolished slavery in the United States.
The exact text of the 13th Amendment:
Section 1:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Section 2:
“Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The United States Constitution has received 27 amendments. The most recent amendment was in 1992, which related to Congressional pay.

State senator resigns in North Carolina, one of 10 states where governor fills vacancies

Louis Pate (R), who served as an elected official in North Carolina for more than 20 years, resigned from office last week for health reasons. Pate won re-election in November 2018 to state Senate District 7, defeating David Brantley (D) 54-45 percent in the general election.
North Carolina is one of 10 states where the governor appoints the replacement for any state legislative vacancy. When making an appointment, the governor must make a decision from a list of recommended candidates submitted by the political party committee that last held the vacant seat. North Carolina’s governor, Roy Cooper (D), will appoint a Republican, which will leave the partisan balance unchanged. The person selected to the seat serves for the remainder of the unfilled term.
25 states hold special elections to fill vacancies.
Find out more about how state legislative vacancies are filled.

Three years ago, Iowa caucuses were just around the corner

Three years ago more than a dozen presidential candidates were storming through Iowa, making their final pitches to voters ahead of the February 1, 2016 caucuses. The Des Moines Register announced its endorsements of Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio. The New York Times reported that Michael Bloomberg was considering a run for president as an independent. These are just two of the items you can read about in Ballotpedia’s Daily Presidential News Briefing from January 25, 2016.
Ultimately, Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses. Clinton received 49.84 percent, edging Bernie Sanders by less than 0.5 points. Cruz, with 27.7 percent, bested Donald Trump and nine other Republican candidates. Clinton received 23 delegates with the Iowa win, while Sanders earned 21. Cruz took 8 delegates from Iowa, while Trump and third-place finisher Rubio received 7 each.
Learn more about the 2016 presidential election below, and sign up for Ballotpedia’s presidential briefing, re-launching next week.

Looking back at 2009’s ballot measure landscape

One statewide ballot measure has been certified for 2019 so far. 10 years ago, voters in 7 states decided the fate of 32 ballot measures.
Three things to know from 2009.
— Maine veto referendum: In 2009, the Maine state government legalized same-sex marriage. That November, voters approved a veto referendum, nullifying the law that had been passed earlier that year. Maine voters would later approve a ballot measure in 2012 to legalize same-sex marriage. The 2009 veto referendum passed by a vote of 52 percent to 47 percent.
— Casinos in Ohio: Voters in Ohio approved a citizen initiative to authorize the construction of casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. The ballot measure attracted nearly $75 million in support and opposition spending. Since 2009, voters nationwide have seen 42 statewide ballot measures related to gambling.
— The 7 states that saw statewide measures was the second-lowest odd-year figure from the past 30 years. Since 1987, odd-year ballots saw an average of 50 measures across 11 states.

How many citizens does your state legislator represent?

Each decade, the federal government conducts a census to update its population counts. Changes in population counts then require state governments to redraw their legislative jurisdiction boundaries.
  • The average state senate district had a population of 156,339 following the 2010 census. That was an increase of 13,532 from the 2000 figure of 142,807.
  • The average state house district had a population of 59,626 following the 2010 census. That was an increase of 7,627 from the 2000 figure of 51,999.
  • Here are the five states with the largest population per state senate district:
    • California: 931,349
    • Texas: 811,147
    • Florida: 470,033
    • Ohio: 349,591
    • New York: 307,589
  • Here are the five states with the smallest population per state house district:
    • North Dakota: 14,310
    • Wyoming: 18,788
    • Montana: 19,788
    • Vermont: 20,858
    • South Dakota: 23,262
Click below to learn more about your state.

Flashback to three years ago today – presidential primary debates

On this night three years ago, the Republican Party held its sixth debate of the presidential primary cycle. Taking place in North Charleston, South Carolina, seven candidates participated in the primetime debate, while three candidates were involved in the undercard.
The primetime debate was hosted by the Fox Business Network and moderated by Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo. The following candidates participated in the primetime debate:
*Donald Trump
*Ted Cruz
*Ben Carson
*Marco Rubio
*Chris Christie
*Jeb Bush
*John Kasich
The undercard featured Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum. Rand Paul, who was still an active presidential candidate, chose not to participate in the undercard after he was not invited to the primetime debate.
The Republican Party held 12 debates during the presidential primary of 2016, while the Democratic Party held nine debates.
On December 20, 2018, the Democratic National Committee announced plans to host a minimum of 12 debates for the party’s presidential primary candidates. The schedule sets the first debate in June 2019 and the final debate in April 2020, with six debates occurring in each year. The Iowa caucuses kicking off the 2020 presidential primary are set for February 3, 2020.
Sign up for Ballotpedia’s free daily presidential briefing to stay current on all of the news and updates.

Seven states swear in legislators today

With a new year, comes a new batch of state legislators. Thousands of legislators will be sworn into office this month. In the November 2018 general elections, 322 incumbent legislators were defeated. Including the incumbents who retired or were defeated in primaries, the 2019 legislative sessions will see 1,599 new state legislators taking their oath of office. The new legislators reflect 21.7% of all state legislators nationwide.

Today, seven states are swearing in legislators:
New York
Three fun facts about state legislators being sworn in this term:
1) Fifteen states have term limits, accounting for 1,930 of all state legislative seats (26.1%).
2) Two legislators have been in office since the 1960s.
The longest-serving state representative, Republican Tom Craddick, began his tenure in 1969. This is his 50th year in the Texas State Legislature. He is one of two state legislators elected in the 1960s.
The other is Fred Risser, Democratic state senator from Wisconsin.
3) More than 15 percent of state legislators were elected before the year 2000:
1960s: 2 (<0.1%)
1970s: 41 (<0.1%)
1980s: 101 (1.3%)
1990s: 984 (13.3%)
The remaining 7,383 legislators (84.7%) were all elected in the 21st century.