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Ballotpedia study: population distribution mirrors state supreme court partisanship 

Ballotpedia recently published a new study on state supreme courts entitled “Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship”. Among the findings, the study revealed trends in the distribution of the population across the country that closely tracked with the breakdown of partisan control over state supreme courts.

The correlation between population distribution and court partisanship was closest among states with supreme courts where a majority of the justices are affiliated with the Republican party. On 27 (54%) state supreme courts, justices with Republican Confidence Scores (our level of confidence in partisan affiliation) make up a majority on the state supreme court. There are 178 (52.2%) justices with Republican Confidence Scores in the country. Of the U.S. population, 57.7% of citizens live in states with a Republican Court Balance Score, and 51.1% of citizens live in a state which has a majority of justices with Republican Confidence Scores on the court.

The correlation between population distribution and court partisanship was less close among states with supreme courts where a majority of the justices are affiliated with the Democratic party. On 15 (30%) state supreme courts, justices with Democratic Confidence Scores make up a majority of the justices. There are 114 justices with Democratic Confidence Scores (33.4%) in the country. Of the U.S. population, 42.3% of citizens live in states which have a court with a Democrat Court Balance Score, and 39.9% live in a state which has a majority of justices with Democratic Confidence Scores on the court.

Most people in the United States live in a state with a partisan majority on the supreme court. However, there were eight courts (16%) where there were neither justices with Democratic Confidence Scores nor justices with Republican Confidence Scores occupying a majority of the court. Forty-nine justices (14.4%) recorded an Indeterminate Confidence Score (where the justice did not have a clear tie to either party), and 9% of citizens live in a state with a split court, or a court with a majority of justices with indeterminate partisan leanings.

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Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell retires

On Nov. 18, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell retired, citing family obligations and a desire to return to private practice. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) appointed Blackwell to the court in June 2012 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of George H. Carley. Before serving on the supreme court, Blackwell served on the Georgia Court of Appeals from 2010 to 2012.

Blackwell first announced his retirement on Feb. 28, 2020. Following the announcement, the Georgia Supreme Court announced that the governor would appoint Blackwell’s replacement.

Former Congressman John Barrow (D) and former state Representative Beth Beskin (R), who both planned to run for Blackwell’s seat, challenged the appointment in court. They argued that the vacancy should instead be filled by a special election. The state supreme court ruled in a 6-2 opinion on May 14 that the secretary of state could not be compelled to hold the election.

On March 27, 2020, the Georgia JNC recommended four candidates to the governor to fill the vacancy. Three of the candidates are superior court justices; one is a justice on the Georgia Court of Appeals. Gov. Brian Kemp will select Blackwell’s replacement from this list. This will be his second appointment to the supreme court.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

Additional reading:



Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: November 24, 2020



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37 states modified absentee/mail-in voting procedures in Nov. 3 elections

The November 3, 2020, general elections included races for president, 35 U.S. Senate seats, 435 U.S. House of Representatives seats, 120 statewide ballot measures, 165 state executive offices, state legislative seats in 86 chambers, and thousands of local offices and ballot measures.

All told, 37 states modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures for the general election. These modifications can be divided into five broad categories. Here’s a recap of all of the changes made throughout 2020.

Automatic absentee/mail-in ballots: Five states (California, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont) automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballots to all eligible voters.

Automatic mail-in ballot applications: Eleven states (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballot applications to all eligible voters.

Eligibility expansions: Twelve states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) expanded absentee/mail-in voting eligibility.

Deadline extensions: Five states (Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) extended absentee/mail-in ballot application or submission deadlines.

Other process changes: Four states (Alaska, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia) made other modifications to their absentee/mail-in ballot procedures.

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A closer look at historical margins of victory in Boomerang and Retained Pivot Counties

Following the 2016 presidential election, there were 206 Pivot Counties that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 before voting for Donald Trump (R) in 2016.

Based on unofficial 2020 results, there were 22 Boomerang Pivot Counties, which flipped to Joe Biden (D), and 174 Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again.

In 2016, Trump’s average margin of victory in what are now the 22 Boomerang Pivot Counties counties was 1.97 percentage points, 9.45 points fewer than his average across all Pivot Counties. By contrast, Obama overperformed in these counties, relative to his overall averages, in 2012 and 2008.

On the other hand, compared to 2016, Trump’s average margin of victory in the 174 Retained Pivot Counties increased by 2.15 percentage points. Trump had overperformed in the Retained Pivot Counties in 2016, exceeding his overall average margin of victory by 1.06 percentage points. Obama underperformed in these counties in 2008 and 2012.

To learn more about Boomerang Pivot Counties, click here: https://ballotpedia.org/Election_results,_2020:_Boomerang_Pivot_Counties

To learn more about Retained Pivot Counties, click here: https://ballotpedia.org/Election_results,_2020:_Retained_Pivot_Counties



Expected census delays may postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021

On Nov. 19, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham announced that, “during post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies have been discovered” in the 2020 United States Census. Dillingham said he had directed the bureau “to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiously as possible.” Also on Nov. 19, The New York Times reported that “a growing number of snags in the massive data-processing operation that generates population totals had delayed the completion of population calculations at least until Jan. 26, [2021], and perhaps to mid-February.”

This expected delay could postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021. At least one state (California) has already extended its redistricting deadlines in light of the uncertainty surrounding the conclusion of the census. On July 17, the California Supreme Court unanimously ordered the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to release draft district plans by Nov. 1, 2021, and final district plans by Dec. 15, 2021. The original deadlines were July 1, 2021, and August 15, 2021, respectively.

The census, apportionment, and redistricting: Every ten years, the United States conducts the census, a complete count of the U.S. population. Census results determine congressional apportionment (i.e., the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives). Because the U.S. Constitution requires that seats in the House be apportioned to the states on the basis of population, a state can gain seats if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states.

Federal law requires congressional and legislative districts to have substantively equal populations. States use census data during their redistricting processes to ensure compliance with this requirement. The standard census timeline calls for the bureau to submit apportionment counts to the President by Dec. 31 and redistricting data to the states by April 1, 2021.

In the 2010 cycle, redistricting authorities enacted 43 new congressional district maps and 50 new state legislative district maps. The majority of these – 63 maps (31 congressional and 32 state legislative), 67.74 percent of the total– were enacted in 2011. In 2012, 28 maps (12 congressional and 16 state legislative) were enacted, 30.11 percent of the total. The remaining maps were enacted in the first six months of 2013.

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Traveling over Thanksgiving? Here are the states with restrictions on travel

Heading into Thanksgiving, 12 states plus the District of Columbia have active restrictions on travel intended to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Since the pandemic began, 26 states have issued restrictions on travel, and 14 have been rescinded.

The states (plus D.C.) with active travel restrictions as of Nov. 23 are:

  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

All twelve states plus the District of Columbia require out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Some states, including Alaska, Massachusetts, and New York, allow travelers to avoid or reduce the length of the quarantine period if they can produce a negative COVID-19 test—usually taken within 72 hours of departure—upon arrival.

Of the states on that list, Alaska was the first to impose restrictions on travel in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Pennsylvania, which issued its restrictions on November 20, was the most recent to do so.

Many states that have not issued enforceable orders limiting travel have instead issued advisories encouraging travelers to quarantine upon arrival. For example, on November 13, Govs. Jay Inslee (D-Wa.), Kate Brown (D-Ore.), and Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) issued  advisories asking out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. They also asked residents to limit non-essential travel.

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Biden picks Blinken, Mayorkas, Thomas-Greenfield for top foreign policy and national security posts

Transition Tracker Daily by Ballotpedia

Welcome to Ballotpedia’s Transition Tracker

November 24, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) is the projected winner of the 2020 presidential election. The Electoral College will meet on December 14, 2020, to vote for the next president of the United States.

In 2016, there were 1,714 government positions subject to presidential appointment: 1,242 positions required Senate confirmation and 472 did not. Every weekday, Ballotpedia is tracking potential Cabinet nominees, appointments, and news related to the Biden presidential transition.


Appointments and Nominations

Biden announced six leading members of his foreign policy and national security team on Monday. He said of his selections, “Their accomplishments in diplomacy are unmatched, but they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet the profound challenges of this new moment with old thinking and unchanged habits — or without diversity of background and perspective. It’s why I’ve selected them.”

Antony Blinken, secretary of state

Antony Blinken started in government service at the State Department. He held several foreign policy positions throughout the Clinton and Obama administrations, including assistant to the president, principal deputy national security adviser, and deputy secretary of state. From 2002 to 2008, Blinken was the Democratic staff director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, overlapping with Biden’s time as committee chairman from 2007 to 2009.

Foreign Policy reported, “Blinken’s nomination could also signal a return to prominence for what traditionally was a main driver of U.S. foreign policy. During the Obama administration—and Trump’s single term—some diplomats said that the White House and National Security Council had overshadowed the State Department, leaving it with less clout and influence in making foreign policy. Especially given Blinken’s close relationship with Biden, the pick is seen as a shot in the arm for the State Department.”

Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of homeland security

Alejandro Mayorkas was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Central District of California for nearly a decade, where he focused on white collar crime. He then became a U.S. attorney; his cases involved financial fraud, public corruption, and violent crime. He served in the Obama administration as the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the deputy secretary of homeland security, where he helped implement the DACA program. Born in Cuba, Mayorkas is the first Latino and immigrant nominated for this position. 

CBS News reported, “Mayorkas’ selection signals that the incoming Biden administration will prioritize immigration policy, which DHS typically enacts and implements, along with the Justice Department.”

Avril Haines, director of national intelligence

Avril Haines was the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2013 to 2015. During the Obama administration, she also served as an assistant to the president and principal deputy national security adviser. She previously worked on Capitol Hill as deputy chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If confirmed, Haines will be the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence.

Former CIA Director John Brennan said, “The real purpose [of the DNI position] is to have someone who can serve as an effective orchestra conductor of the 17 intelligence agencies, so what comes out is a symphony and not a cacophony. Her easiest job will be to work with the new administration. She knows these people.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

Linda Thomas-Greenfield worked at the U.S. Foreign Service for 35 years, where she held an ambassadorship in Liberia from 2008 to 2012 and positions in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. From 2012 to 2013, she was the director general of the Foreign Service.

The Associated Press reported, “Other than secretary of state, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is often the most high-profile foreign policy portfolio in a presidential administration. The influence of these ambassadors has waxed and waned depending on the nature of the president and secretary of state, but Democratic administrations have traditionally leaned more heavily on them than Republicans have.”

John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate

John Kerry is a former secretary of state, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, and Democratic presidential nominee. He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2009 to 2013. While secretary of state, Kerry was involved in the negotiations for the Paris Climate Accord. 

“This marks the first time that the [National Security Council] will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the Biden Transition said in a press release.

Jake Sullivan, national security advisor

Jake Sullivan was a director of policy planning and deputy chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He also served as national security advisor to Biden during his vice presidency. Sullivan, a Yale Law graduate and Rhodes scholar, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.


News

  • The General Services Administration ascertained the results of the presidential election on Monday, identifying Biden as the apparent winner and allowing him access to resources and funding to help with the transition. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter, “Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision.”
  • Biden is expected to nominate Janet Yellen for secretary of the Treasury. She was the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, where she was appointed during the Obama administration. She was also the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration. 

What We’re Reading

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Ballotpedia’s Daily Brew: 12 states + D.C. currently have travel restrictions

Happy early Thanksgiving! We hope you enjoy the day, even if it looks a little different this year. We’ll be back with the next Brew edition on Monday, Nov. 30.

Welcome to the Tuesday, Nov. 24, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Traveling over Thanksgiving? Here are the states with restrictions on travel
  2. Expected census delays may postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021
  3. Upcoming elections

Traveling over Thanksgiving? Here are the states with restrictions on travel

Thanksgiving week is historically one of the busiest travel periods of the year. The CDC and many state officials are discouraging travel this year, citing the rise in coronavirus cases across the country.

Ballotpedia has tracked 12 states plus the District of Columbia that currently have active restrictions on travel:

  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Of the states on that list, Alaska was the first to impose travel restrictions. Pennsylvania, which issued its restrictions on Nov. 20, was the most recent to do so.

All 12 states plus the District of Columbia require out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Some states, including Alaska, Massachusetts, and New York, allow travelers to avoid or reduce the length of the quarantine period if they can produce a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival. Restriction enforcement includes fines ranging from $100 to $10,000.

Since the pandemic began, 26 states have issued restrictions on travel, and 14 have been rescinded.

Many states that have not issued enforceable orders limiting travel have instead issued advisories encouraging travelers to quarantine upon arrival. Click the link below for a list of all the states’ travel restrictions and advisories. And to stay up-to-date on travel restrictions and much more coronavirus-related news, click here to subscribe to our Documenting America’s Path to Recovery emails.

Learn more

Expected census delays may postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021

On Nov. 19, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham announced an expected delay in processing population totals for the 2020 U.S. Census. On the same day, the New York Times reported that calculations could be delayed until at least Jan. 26, 2021, but possibly to mid-February. 

The standard census timeline calls for the bureau to submit apportionment counts to the President by Dec. 31 and redistricting data to the states by April 1, 2021. In the 2010 cycle, the bureau delivered apportion counts to the president on Dec. 21, 2010, and redistricting data to the states between Feb. 3 and March 24, 2011.

At least one state (California) has already extended its redistricting deadlines by order of the state supreme court, in light of the uncertainty surrounding the conclusion of the census. 

Federal law requires congressional and legislative districts to have roughly equal populations. Consequently, states use census data during their redistricting processes to ensure compliance with this requirement. 

Every 10 years, the United States conducts the census, a complete count of the U.S. population. Census results determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. Because the U.S. Constitution requires that representation be apportioned to the states on the basis of population, a state can gain seats if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states.

In the 2010 cycle, redistricting authorities enacted 43 new congressional district maps and 50 new state legislative district maps (seven states had only one district each, eliminating the need for congressional redistricting). The majority—63 maps (31 congressional and 32 state legislative), or 67.74% of the total—were enacted in 2011. In 2012, 28 maps (12 congressional and 16 state legislative) were enacted—30.11% of the total. The remaining maps were enacted in the first six months of 2013.

Although postponements to the 2020 process are possible because of census delays, what happened in 2010 gives us an idea of when most of the redistricting activity will occur.

Learn more

Upcoming elections

Much of the country’s attention is focused on the Jan. 5 runoffs for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. But there are several elections occurring before then. Let’s take a look at the upcoming races:

  • Nov. 24: Mississippi is holding a special runoff election for state House District 87 and a general runoff election for DeSoto County School District.
  • Dec. 1: Arkansas will hold a general runoff for the Little Rock School District.
  • Dec. 1: Georgia will hold a runoff for state races, including a special election runoff for Georgia state Senate District 39.
  • Dec. 5: Louisiana’s statewide general election.
  • Texas will hold elections on multiple days in December:
    • Dec. 8: General runoff for Arlington, Mansfield ISD, and Dallas County
    • Dec. 12: General runoff for El Paso County, Laredo, and Houston City Council 
    • Dec. 15: General runoff for Austin and Corpus Christi
    • Dec. 19: Special election runoff for state Senate District 30
  • Dec. 15: Alabama will hold a special election primary runoff will be held for state Senate District 26.
  • Dec. 22: New York will hold a special election for City Council District 12.

Learn more



Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: November 23, 2020



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