Wisconsin Supreme Court primary turnout at highest level in decades

Last week’s Wisconsin Supreme Court primary featured the highest turnout in at least 20 years, with just under 704,000 voters participating. The next-highest primary turnout during this period was in 2016 when 566,000 voters participated in the primary.

Since 2000, there have been 15 other elections for state Supreme Court, six of which had primaries (a Wisconsin Supreme Court primary is only held if more than two candidates file; the top two finishers in the primary advance to the general election).

Higher primary turnout has typically been associated with higher general election turnout. The 2016 general election had the highest turnout of any during this time period, including the nine without primaries, at 1.95 million. The record-low 278,000-voter turnout in the 2003 primary was followed by the lowest turnout in any general election where a primary was held.

Turnout in a general election has exceeded 1 million three time: in 2011, 2016, and 2019. The conservative-backed candidate won in all three elections. The three lowest turnout figures for contested elections during this time were in the 2009, 2003, and 2015 elections, ranging between 794,000 and 813,000. The liberal candidate-backed won in 2009 and 2015, while the conservative-backed candidate won in 2003.

Incumbent Daniel Kelly and Jill Karofsky were the top-two finishers in the Feb. 18 primary this year and will advance to the April 7 general election. Kelly received 50.1% of the primary vote. Of the six other primaries since 2000, a candidate received more than 50% of the vote in three. In all three, that candidate went on to win the general election.

This year’s general election coincides with Wisconsin’s April 7 presidential primaries. Eight notable Democrats are running in that party’s presidential primary as of Feb. 25. President Donald Trump will be the only candidate on the Republican presidential primary ballot.

The result of the state supreme court general election stands to impact future control of the court. A Kelly win would preserve the current 5-2 conservative majority. Assuming that no justices leave the bench early, this would prevent liberals from winning a majority on the court any earlier than 2026. A win for Karofsky would narrow the conservative majority to 4-3 and would mean that the 2023 election will decide control of the court.

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A state-by-state comparison of state legislative election and session dates in 2020

In 2020, 44 states will hold legislative elections and 46 states will hold regularly-scheduled legislative sessions.

In 19 of the states holding legislative elections in 2020, filing deadlines were scheduled to occur after the end of the state legislative session. Candidates in the remaining 25 states have to file either during or before their legislative session.

In the 40 states holding state legislative elections and sessions, 33 primaries were scheduled to take place after the end of the state’s legislative session. Two states’ primaries—Arkansas and North Carolina—were scheduled to take place before their legislative sessions. In those states, then, an incumbent could be challenged and defeated in a primary but still have a legislative session to attend.

The length of time between a filing deadline and primary impacts the amount of time legislative candidates have to campaign. The three states with the shortest length of time between the two are Connecticut, Delaware, and South Dakota, where candidates have 63 days between the filing deadline and primary. The three states with the longest length of time all border one another: Kentucky (130 days), Missouri (126), and Tennessee (126).

Legislative sessions in states with Republican trifectas are 100 days long, on average, whereas sessions in states with Democratic trifectas average 130 days. States with divided governments have an average session length of 151 days. Of the states with the ten longest sessions, only one—Ohio—has a Republican trifecta. The remaining nine consist of five states with Democratic trifectas and four with divided governments.

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No open seats in Pennsylvania U.S. House races; all races feature a Democratic and Republican candidate

Pennsylvania’s statewide major-party filing deadline was February 18, 2020. The primary is scheduled for April 28, and the general election is November 3. Fifty-four candidates filed for the 18 congressional seats on the ballot.

All 18 incumbents filed for re-election, and three face same-party challengers: Brian Fitzpatrick (R) in District 1, Mary Gay Scanlon (D) in District 5, and Michael Doyle (D) in District 18. The remaining 15 officeholders do not have primary competition.

At least one Democratic and one Republican candidate filed for each U.S. House seat. Of the 36 possible primaries, 25 are unopposed. Seven primaries feature two candidates, three primaries have three candidates, and one primary has six candidates on the ballot. Six of the contested primaries are Democratic primaries, and five are Republican primaries.

The 2018 election saw 11 incumbents file for re-election. Due to redistricting, not all officeholders filed for re-election to the same seat they held. Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District was the only U.S. House district in the state to not have a major-party candidate file for election that year.

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Special election being held in Pennsylvania House district

A special election is being held on February 25 for District 190 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. G. Roni Green (D), a business agent for SEIU Local 668, is facing off against businesswoman Wanda Logan (R). Candidates running for special election in Pennsylvania are directly selected by their respective political parties without a primary.

The seat became vacant when Movita Johnson-Harrell (D) resigned on December 13, 2019, after being charged with theft, perjury, and tampering with public records. Johnson-Harrell was first elected in a special election in March 2019.

Regularly scheduled elections are also being held in Pennsylvania House districts in 2020, including in District 190. Green is one of seven candidates running in the regular Democratic primary; Logan was the only Republican candidate to file for election in the district. The primary is taking place on April 28, and the general election is on November 3.

Heading into the election, Republicans have a 107-92 majority in the Pennsylvania House with four vacancies. Pennsylvania has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of February, 33 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 15 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

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McNamara appointed Massachusetts Comptroller

On February 11, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker appointed Bill McNamara Comptroller of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, effective Friday, February 21.

McNamara’s appointment comes after Comptroller Andrew Maylor announced that he was resigning to accept a position as Vice President and Chief Business Officer of Merrimack College. Before his appointment, McNamara most recently served as Assistant Secretary for the Executive Office for Administration and Finance.

In a press release from the governor’s office, Gov. Baker said, “Bill has a depth of experience in several senior leadership roles in the public and private sector that qualify him for this important new post to oversee the Commonwealth’s fiscal policies and operations…His commitment to transparency and reliable governance will be a great benefit to Massachusetts, and I look forward to working with him to ensure continued fiscal accountability and discipline across state government.”

In Massachusetts, the Comptroller of the Commonwealth is a nonpartisan, governor-appointed position responsible for independent oversight of the state’s finances.

The Comptroller of the Commonwealth serves a term coterminous with the governor.

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Bill McNamara
Massachusetts Comptroller of the Commonwealth
Charles D. Baker
Andrew Maylor
Governor of Massachusetts

Governor Ducey appoints Corieri to Arizona Director of Insurance

On February 14, 2020, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed Christina Corieri (R) to serve as the Interim Director of Arizona’s Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions. Corieri filled the vacancy created by Keith Schraad’s (R) resignation on February 12, 2020.

Schraad resigned from the Arizona Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions to take a job in the private sector. Schraad served as the Department of Insurance’s director for two years before his resignation.

The director oversees the Arizona Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions, the agency charged with enforcing state insurance regulations. The department licenses insurance companies to operate within the state and collects various financial filings and reports from them. It makes specific rules based on regulations passed by the state legislature and, with the cooperation of the attorney general, enforces them. The department also interacts with consumers through its education and outreach initiatives.

Before her appointment to lead the Department of Insurance, Corieri served as a senior policy advisor for Gov. Ducey. She has also served as the health and human services policy advisor for Gov. Ducey, chief of staff for Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, and as a health and policy analyst for the Goldwater Institute.

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Keith Schraad
Arizona Director of Insurance

Ostlie appointed to fill vacancy in North Dakota House of Representatives

Photo creditAcroterion

On February 19, 2020, Mitch Ostlie (R) was appointed by the North Dakota District 12 Republican Executive Committee to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former State Rep. Jim Grueneich (R). Ostlie will serve for the remainder of Grueneich’s term, set to end at the end of the year.

Grueneich resigned from the North Dakota House on February 11, 2020, after he moved outside of the district. Grueneich is running to represent North Dakota House of Representatives District 28—the district that encompasses his new home—in 2020. Grueneich was first elected tot he North Dakota House of Representatives in 2016.

Oslie’s appointment to the North Dakota House filled the Assembly’s only vacancy. Ostlie has said he will run in the district’s regular elections in 2020. The primary for that race is June 9 and the general election will take place Nov. 3.

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North Dakota House of Representatives District 12
North Dakota House of Representatives
North Dakota elections, 2020

New Mexico voters to decide whether to allow changes to the election dates of non-statewide offices

New Mexico Elections and Terms of Non-Statewide Officeholders Amendment (HJR8) was certified for the November 3 ballot on February 20. The measure would amend section 3 of Article XX of the New Mexico Constitution, which relates to the date elected officials assume office. The amendment would allow the state legislature to pass laws adjusting the election dates of state or county officeholders and adjust office terms according to those date changes. Laws proposing adjustments to election dates of non-statewide officeholders would have to be supported by a legislative finding that such a change would promote consistency for the elections of particular offices or more evenly distribute the number of offices appearing on the ballot.

The amendment, House Joint Resolution 8, was introduced on January 29, 2020. The state House approved HJR8 on February 15, with a vote of 59 to 10, with one member absent. The state Senate approved the amendment on February 20, with a vote of 29 to 13. To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority is required in both the New Mexico State Senate and the New Mexico House of Representatives. A simple majority vote of the statewide electorate is required to ratify the amendment.

The amendment was a response to the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that certain provisions of the Election Code and the Nonpartisan Judicial Retention Act (2019) were unconstitutional. The court argued that the 2019 act, which lengthened the terms of certain non-statewide officeholders by shifting the offices to different election cycles, was unconstitutional. In a report to the legislature, the Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D), wrote, “HJR8 is the Legislature’s attempt to properly extend the terms of these officers to align them on the same ballot on the same election year, which would help the SOS and voters by providing consistency and clarity of the ballot.” The 2019 act primarily affects the terms of district attorneys and judicial officers.

The amendment is the second constitutional amendment referred to the 2020 ballot in New Mexico. The New Mexico Appointed Public Regulation Commission Amendment would change the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) from an elected five-member commission to an appointed three-member commission. Between 1995 and 2018, voters approved 85.5 percent of the constitutional amendments on the ballot in the state.

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New Mexico Elections and Terms of Non-Statewide Officeholders Amendment (2020) 
New Mexico 2020 ballot measures

Californians to vote on one statewide ballot measure, a $15 billion education facilities bond, on March 3, 2020

On March 3, 2020, Californians will decide one statewide ballot measure, Proposition 13. The measure is a $15-billion bond that would provide funds for school and college facilities. Proposition 13 would also make changes to the formula used to distribute state bond funds to schools, the rules governing local bond measures, and school districts’ abilities to assess developer fees.

Of the $15 billion in bonds that would be authorized by Proposition 13, $9 billion would be allocated toward preschool and K-12 schools. The state government would use the bond revenue to provide matching funds to school districts. Proposition 13 would require the state Department of General Services to consider several factors, such as districts’ finances, overcrowding, and earthquake risks, when determining which modernization and construction applications to prioritize.

Proposition 13 would make changes to school districts’ abilities to raise revenue with local bond measures. Districts would be permitted to issue a higher amount of local general obligation bonds. The limit on bond amounts would increase from 1.25 percent to 2.0 percent of assessed property value for elementary and high school districts. In California, school districts must place local general obligation bonds on the ballot, and the bond measure must receive 55 percent of the vote to be approved. Proposition 13 would also prohibit school districts from levying developer fees on multifamily residential developments, such as apartment complexes, within 0.5 miles of a major transit stop. Currently, school districts are permitted to assess one-time fees on developments to provide funds for school construction if the district can show that the new development would bring students into the district.

Proposition 13 would appropriate $6.0 billion to higher institutions of education: $2.0 billion to the California State University, $2.0 billion to the University of California and Hastings College of the Law, and $2.0 billion to community colleges. The state government would provide bond revenue for colleges’ and universities’ projects as part of the annual budget act. Proposition 13 would require the CSU Board of Trustees and the UC Regents to adopt five-year affordable student housing plans for campuses that seek bond funds.

Proposition 13 was placed on the ballot by the California State Legislature. In the state Senate, every Democrat and 6 of 11 (55 percent) Republicans voted for the proposal. In the state House, every Democrat and 17 of 18 (94 percent) Republicans backed referring the measure to the ballot. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the legislation for Proposition 13 on October 7, 2019.

Californians for Safe Schools and Healthy Learning, also known as Yes on Prop 13, is leading the campaign in support of Proposition 13. Gov. Newsom is a principal officer of the campaign committee. Californians for Safe Schools and Healthy Learning, along with five additional allied committees, raised $9.67 million through February 15, 2020. The largest donations came from the California Teachers Association ($500,000) and the California Charter Schools Association ($400,000). There were no committees organized to fund opposition to the ballot measure. Opponents include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Californians last voted on a school facilities bond measure in 2016, which passed with 55 percent of the vote. The bond measure, titled Proposition 51, issued $7 billion for K-12 education facilities and $2 billion for colleges. Between 1998 and 2019, voters approved five bond measures for school facilities—Proposition 1A (1998), Proposition 47 (2002), Proposition 55 (2004), Proposition 1D (2006), and Proposition 51 (2016). The last time that voters rejected a school facilities bond measure was in 1994, in which a K-12 facilities bond and a separate higher education facilities bond were both defeated. The Public Policy Institute of California has released four polls of Proposition 13 since September 2019, with the polls finding that between 48 percent and 53 percent of voters support the bond measure. An additional 6 percent to 16 percent were undecided in the polls.

While Proposition 13 is the only statewide measure to appear on the ballot for March 3, 2020, in California, both citizen-initiated measures and legislative referrals can be placed on the ballot for November 3, 2020, until 131 days before the general election, which is June 26, 2020.

Click here to learn more about California’s Proposition 13, School and College Facilities Bond

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California 2020 ballot propositions 
2020 ballot measures

Arkansas Supreme Court seat up for election on March 3rd

The term of one Arkansas Supreme Court justice, Josephine Hart, will expire on December 31, 2020. Justice Hart did not file for re-election. The seat is up for nonpartisan election on March 3, 2020, and a runoff election is scheduled for November 3, 2020. Hart was elected to this position on May 22, 2012.

Morgan Welch and Barbara Womack Webb are running in the general election for Hart’s seat on the court. Webb is a former Circuit Judge for the 22nd Judicial Circuit, appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson (R).

Welch is the Division 16 judge on the Sixth Circuit in Arkansas. Welch was first elected to the position on May 22, 2012, and was re-elected in May 2018. His second term began on January 1, 2019, and expires on January 1, 2025.

There are seven justices on the Arkansas Supreme Court, each elected to eight-year terms. They compete in nonpartisan primaries (occurring at the same time as the primary elections for other state officials) in which a candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote wins the seat outright. If no candidate garners a majority of the vote, the top two candidates compete in a runoff during the general election.

The current justices on the court are:

  • Karen R. Baker – Elected in 2010
  • Josephine Hart – Elected in 2012
  • Courtney Hudson Goodson – Elected in 2010
  • Dan Kemp – Elected in 2016
  • Shawn Womack – Elected in 2016
  • Rhonda Wood – Elected in 2014
  • Robin Wynne – Elected in 2014

Justices serve staggered terms, so it is unlikely the entire court will be replaced in one election. Nonpartisan elections were implemented in 2000 with the passage of Amendment 3. Vacancies are filled by interim appointments by the governor of Arkansas under Amendment 29, Section 1, of the state constitution. Appointed justices may not run to succeed themselves in the next election. The court consists of a chief justice, a vice chief justice, and five associate justices. The court’s chief justice is selected by voters at large and serves in that capacity for a full eight-year term.

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