Latest stories

Toledo passes two citizen initiatives in special election

Two citizen initiatives were approved in Toledo, Ohio, on February 26, 2019. Question 1, backed by Keep the Jail Downtown Toledo, received 80 percent approval on election night. The initiative was designed to amend the Toledo City Charter to restrict the location of newly constructed jails and other facilities used to house those accused or convicted of crimes to the city’s downtown overlay district. Proponents led the effort to place Question 1 on the ballot in response to a proposal by the Lucas County Board of Commissioners that would authorize construction of a new jail facility outside of the downtown overlay district in North Toledo.
 
Question 2, known as the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights,” received 61 percent approval on election night. The initiative, backed by Toledoans for Safe Water, was designed to amend the city charter by adding a bill of rights stating that the Lake Erie ecosystem has the “right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The initiative also added provisions to the city charter stating that the people of Toledo have certain rights, including the “right to a clean and healthy environment” and the “right to self-government.” Under the initiative, both the city and residents would be permitted to enforce the provisions through court action. The group Toledoans for Safe Water formed after the city issued a drinking water advisory for three days in August 2014. During that time, city residents were advised not to drink water from Lake Erie, where toxin levels had risen above the World Health Organization’s safety recommendation due to a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The group stated that Question 2 was designed to maintain residents’ access to safe and clean drinking water.
 
The Lucas County Board of Elections originally rejected both questions from the November 2018 ballot, stating that the city would be unable to enforce the proposed provisions. After proponents filed lawsuits, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in both cases that the county’s rejection of the measures had been lawful. Proponents then brought the initiatives before the Toledo City Council. The council voted unanimously on October 4, 2018, to place Question 1 on the special election ballot, and unanimously on December 4, 2018, to place Question 2 on the ballot. Following these city council votes, the Lucas County Board of Elections added the measures to the ballot.
 
Lucas County reported that turnout in the special election was at 9 percent of registered voters.


Jumaane Williams wins New York City public advocate election

Jumaane Williams, a New York City councilman representing parts of Brooklyn, won the New York City public advocate special election on February 26. He defeated 16 other candidates in the nonpartisan election, receiving about 33 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns.
 
He will be the city’s fifth elected public advocate. The previous public advocate, Letitia James, was elected attorney general of New York in November 2018. Corey Johnson, who did not run in yesterday’s special election, has served as the acting public advocate since January 1, 2019.
 
The public advocate is first in the mayoral line of succession and acts as a watchdog and ombudsman for the public. He or she may sit in on meetings of the City Council and introduce legislation but may not vote on any measures. Although the position has little direct power, it is seen as a launching pad for higher office.
 
Of the four previously elected public advocates, two have advanced to higher office following their tenure: James and Bill de Blasio, who became mayor of New York City in 2014.
 
Yesterday’s election means that Williams will serve in the office until December 31, 2019. A second election will be held later this year for the remainder of James’ four-year term which ends in 2021.


SCOTUS releases 10th unanimous opinion of term

The U.S. Supreme Court released its 10th unanimous opinion of the term.
 
Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the unanimous opinion in Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, a case concerning claim-processing rules. It was her first opinion of the term.
 
The justices have issued 11 decisions, 10 of which were unanimous.


How do recalls work in each state?

In some areas of the country, citizens can use the recall process to remove elected officials from office before their term is completed. This process typically includes the circulation of petitions by recall organizers, the evaluation of signatures by election officials, and a public vote if the petitions are deemed to have sufficient valid signatures.
 
There are 39 states that allow citizens to recall local elected officials, and 19 states permit the recall of state officials. Of those 19 states, citizens in 10 of them can recall any kind of state-level elected official. Seven of the states only allow citizens to recall state executives and legislators, but not appellate judges. Rhode Island only permits the recall of state executives, and Illinois only permits the recall of the governor.
 
In Virginia, recalls take the form of petitions to the state’s circuit courts. Virginia laws allow local officials to be recalled, but it is unclear whether a state official can be recalled. There is no precedent of a state legislator or governor in Virginia having faced recall. Virginia is the only state not to use elections for its recall process.
 
Eleven states do not permit the recall of elected officials. These states are Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Vermont.


How states fill current and upcoming supreme court vacancies

There are two current vacancies on state supreme courts, with another three planned based on scheduled retirements.
 
The current vacancies are in Kentucky and South Dakota, and the pending vacancies are in Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia.
 
States fill their supreme court vacancies in a number of ways. Here’s how the states with current or upcoming vacancies fill unexpected openings:
 
  • Kentucky, South Dakota, and Arizona: a successor is chosen by the governor from a list of names compiled by a nominating commission. They are among the 24 states that use this form of assisted appointment for their court of last resort.
  • North Carolina: vacancies are filled by the governor, without him or her having to choose from a list supplied by a commission. It is one of four states that fills vacancies by gubernatorial appointment.
    • This year, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) chose sitting justice Cheri Beasley to fill the vacant chief justice position. She will take the seat on March 1.
  • Virginia: vacancies are filled by a majority vote of the House of Delegates and state Senate. It is one of two states that fills vacancies this way.
    • On February 14, 2019, the General Assembly appointed Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Teresa M. Chafin to fill a vacancy on the court. She will join the court on September 1.


NY Gov. Cuomo signs extreme risk protection order bill

On February 25, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed SB 2451, a firearms-related bill. The New York State Legislature approved the bill along party lines in January. According to the New York State Senate website, SB 2451 “establishes extreme risk protection orders as a court-issued order of protection prohibiting a person from purchasing, possessing or attempting to purchase or possess a firearm, rifle or shotgun.”
 
The law authorizes law enforcement officers, family members, and certain school officials to ask a court to issue an order restricting a person deemed likely to harm themselves or others from accessing firearms.
 
New York joined 13 other states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington—in enacting laws authorizing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders. Of those states, Florida was controlled by a Republican trifecta when the law was adopted. Six other states—California, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island—were controlled by Democratic trifectas.
 
Prior to the 2018 elections, New York had a divided government. Democrats held the governor’s office and the state House. In the state Senate, Democrats held 32 seats to Republicans’ 31. However, Republicans controlled the chamber, as one Democratic state senator caucused with the Republican Party. Following the elections, New York has a Democratic state government trifecta.


Legislators consider initiative and referendum process following increased initiative activity over the last three years

As direct democracy receives more attention so do the processes that govern how measures get on the ballot, the rules for support and opposition campaigns, the requirements for approval, and other details. In 2016 and 2018, citizen-initiatives were more prominent in the political landscape than they had been for several election cycles.
 
Voters directly decided nearly 150 issues over the last three years through initiative and veto referendum signature petitions. More than 200 other statewide ballot measures were sent to voters in the last three years by state legislatures or automatically referred by state laws.
 
So far in 2019 legislative sessions, 121 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, legislative referrals, local ballot measures, and recall have been introduced in 30 states. Two initiatives directly related to initiative and referendum laws were also filed in Missouri and South Dakota targeting the 2020 ballot.
 
Highlights
  • Laws concerning total signature requirements for initiatives and veto referendums or recalls were introduced in five states; in Missouri and Utah, the bills were designed to increase the total number of signatures required for citizen initiatives.
  • Proposed laws concerning distribution requirements for signature gathering were introduced in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, and Montana.
  • In Maine and Massachusetts pay-per-signature bans were introduced.
  • In Oregon, a bill to restrict legislative alteration of future initiatives was introduced.
  • Legislation to increase the supermajority requirement or impose additional vote requirements was introduced in Florida, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Washington.
  • In Missouri, a citizen initiative was filed to prevent state residency requirements, pay-per-signature restrictions, and initiative filing fees. It would also require voter approval for any changes to the initiative and referendum process and establish a system for electronic signatures. Two bills designed to enact initiative filing fees, among other provisions, were introduced in Missouri’s 2019 legislative session.
  • In South Dakota, an initiative to roll back some changes made in 2018 was filed.
  • Proposals were introduced in nine states to establish a process for ballot initiatives, veto referendums, recall, or some combination of the three.
  • 26 states have some form of initiative or veto referendum process. The last state to establish a process for initiatives was Mississippi in 1992.

In 2018, Ballotpedia tracked 203 pieces of legislation related to ballot measures and recall in 34 states by the end of the year. Of those 203, 34 were approved, 140 were rejected or abandoned, and nine were carried over to 2019. The most significant proposals were passed in Michigan and South Dakota.



A parcel tax measure is on the ballot for voters in California’s San Marino Unified School District

A parcel tax measure is on the ballot for voters in California’s San Marino Unified School District on Tuesday, February 26. Approval of Measure R would renew the district’s expiring parcel tax at the rate of $366 per parcel to fund education programs, instruction, and staffing. A parcel tax is a kind of property tax based on units of property rather than assessed value.



Toledo special election features two citizen initiatives Tuesday

Voters in Toledo, Ohio, will decide two local ballot measures at a special election on Tuesday, February 26. Question 1 is a citizen initiative designed to restrict the location of jails, prisons, and other facilities housing individuals accused or convicted of crimes to Toledo’s downtown overlay district. The group Keep the Jail Downtown Toledo has led the campaign in favor of Question 1. Question 2, also a citizen initiative, would establish a bill of rights for the Lake Erie ecosystem. The group Toledoans for Safe Water has led the campaign in favor of Question 2. Voters have until 7:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday to cast their ballots in the special election.



Trial begins for a Sedgwick County commissioner

The fraud trial for Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell (R) began on Monday in a federal court in Wichita, Kansas. The trial is expected to last five days.
 
O’Donnell is accused of taking $10,500 from campaign funds for his personal use. In May 2018, O’Donnell was indicted by a federal grand jury on 23 counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. The indictment alleges that in 2015 and 2016, O’Donnell wrote checks from his campaign account to three of his friends who cashed the checks. Prosecutors allege that O’Donnell’s friends did little or no work on his campaign and that some of the money from the cashed checks went into O’Donnell’s personal checking account.
 
O’Donnell has served on the Sedgwick County Commission since 2017. His term expires in 2020. Prior to his election to the county commission, he served in the Kansas State Senate from 2013 to 2017 and on the Wichita City Council from 2011 to 2013.