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Special primary held for South Carolina House district

A special primary for District 14 of the South Carolina House of Representatives was held on February 19. Garrett McDaniel defeated Bobby Gregory Sr. in the Democratic primary, earning 92 percent of the vote. Stewart Jones earned 51.6 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, defeating Michael Seymour, Scott Horne, and Grant Blair. McDaniel and Jones will face off in the special election on April 23.
The seat became vacant after Michael Pitts (R) resigned for health reasons on January 3, 2019.
Entering the special election, the South Carolina House of Representatives has 44 Democrats, 79 Republicans, and one vacancy. South Carolina has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

Wisconsin cities and school boards hold primaries

Cities and school districts across Wisconsin held primaries on February 19 for any office that attracted more than two candidates per seat. The winners advanced to the general election on April 2.
In Madison, primaries were held for mayor, four common council seats, and three school board seats. Out of those races, only the mayor and one school board seat had incumbents running. The rest of the races are open and guaranteed to see a newcomer win in April. Mayor Paul Soglin faced four challengers in the primary. He received 28.6 percent of the vote and advanced to the general election along with Satya Rhodes-Conway, who received 27.7 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election night results. They defeated Mo Cheeks, Raj Shukla, and Nick Hart.
The District 3, 12, 13, and 15 seats on the Madison Common Council held primaries to narrow the field of candidates from three, four, or five candidates to two. Out of the 20 common council seats on the ballot in April, 11 have incumbents running.
TJ Mertz, Seat 5 incumbent on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, advanced to the general election along with Ananda Mirilli. The Seat 3 and 4 primaries narrowed the open races from three and four candidates, respectively, to two.
Milwaukee Public Schools held a primary for one of the five seats up for election this year. Three candidates filed to run for the open District 8 seat. Kathryn Gabor and Megan O’Halloran advanced to the general election. Out of the five school board seats on the ballot in April, only one has an incumbent running for re-election.
A Wisconsin recall election was also on the ballot on February 19. It sought to remove two of the seven members of the Flambeau School District Board of Education, and it was approved by voters. Board President Sam Stewart and board clerk Danielle Zimmer were voted out of their positions. Challengers Sara Baker and Ruth Opachan won election to the seats.

Due to voter approval of Proposal 3 last year, any Michigan voter can request an absentee ballot beginning Thursday, Feb. 21

Due to voter approval of Proposal 3 in November 2018, Michigan voters can request no-excuse absentee ballots beginning on Thursday, February 21, 2019, for the election on May 7. No-excuse absentee voting, also known as no-reason absentee voting, allows any voter to cast an absentee ballot. Michigan is one of 28 states, along with Washington, D.C., that provides for no-excuse absentee voting.
Before voters approved Proposal 3, voters had to meet at least one of certain specific criteria to receive an absentee ballot, including (a) 60 years old or older; (b) unable to vote without assistance at the polls; (c) expected to be out-of-town on election day; (d) in jail awaiting arraignment or trial; (e) unable to attend the polls for religious reasons; or (f) appointed to work as an election inspector in a precinct outside of the inspector’s home precinct.
Proposal 3 was a ballot initiative that added straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and no-excuse absentee voting to the Michigan Constitution. It was approved by 66.9 percent of voters. On February 20, 2019, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) announced that she was creating a 25-member committee to provide suggestions on implementing Proposal 3 and other changes to election policy.
Promote the Vote, a political action committee, led the campaign in support of Proposal 3. The ACLU of Michigan, the Michigan State Conference of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Michigan launched the campaign. Promote the Vote raised $5.40 million, with 49 percent of total funds from the national ACLU. Protect My Vote formed to oppose the ballot initiative and received $3.36 million in contributions. The Michigan Freedom Fund was the largest donor to the opposition, contributing $3.06 million.

3rd Circuit Court of Appeals rules against Trump administration over law enforcement grants

On February 15, 2019, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled in City of Philadelphia v. Attorney General of the United States that the Trump administration could not deny funds to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, because of its immigration policies.
Judge Marjorie Rendell, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote in the opinion that “the Attorney General did not have statutory authority to impose” the JAG grant compliance requirements. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) grants JAG funds annually to states and cities to support local law enforcement.
The 3rd Circuit’s ruling upheld an earlier ruling from U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, a George W. Bush appointee, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. On June 6, 2018, Baylson ruled that Philadelphia was entitled to receive prompt JAG funds and the Trump administration’s attempt to withhold funds from the city “violate[d] statutory and constitutional law.”
On July 25, 2017, the DOJ announced two new requirements for the JAG grants and said applicants who did not meet the requirements would be ineligible to receive funds. The new conditions required applicants to comply with federal laws on immigration, particularly through local communication with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding undocumented immigrants.
Philadelphia first filed a lawsuit against the DOJ’s new JAG grant compliance requirements on August 20, 2017. Several other cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City, also filed legal challenges to the requirements.

Michigan could be the next state to vote on a ranked-choice voting ballot initiative

Could Michigan be the second state to vote on ranked-choice voting? Bill Gelineau, a Libertarian, is planning a ballot initiative for a future election to enact ranked-choice voting. Gelineau ran for governor in 2018, placing third with 1.3 percent of votes behind Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Bill Schuette (R). The Lansing, Michigan, chapter of Represent.Us is also interested in an RCV ballot initiative.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a voting method in which voters rank candidates according to their preference and ballots are processed in rounds. The candidate in last place is eliminated during each round, and the voters’ second choices get their votes. The process is continued until a candidate wins a simple majority (50 percent plus one) of the vote.
The ballot initiative is expected to be a constitutional amendment, which requires 425,059 valid signatures to appear on the ballot in 2020 or 2022. Signatures also need to meet a distribution requirement due to legislation passed in December 2018. The requirement limits the number of signatures collected in a single congressional district to 15 percent of the total required. In Michigan, petitioners have 180 days to collect signatures for a ballot initiative.
Michigan would follow Maine in deciding whether to adopt ranked-choice voting (RCV). Voters in Maine approved a ranked-choice voting ballot initiative in 2016, but the legislature passed a bill delaying and repealing RCV. Backers of RCV mobilized a campaign to overturn the bill through a veto referendum in June 2018, and 53.9 percent of electors voted to preserve the system. RCV was used in Maine’s 2nd congressional district election in November 2018, with Jared Golden (D) defeating incumbent Bruce Poliquin (R) after first-round votes for two independent candidates were redistributed.
Gelineau said he believes voters could approve RCV in Michigan, stating, “Are there enough people out there who believe in democracy that would be willing to forgo what may be the end of the two-party system to say we can have a better way of running our government? I really think it’s possible.”

Sixteen states file suit against Trump’s emergency declaration

Sixteen state attorneys general filed a lawsuit in California’s Northern District against President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to pay for a wall along the southern border.
The lawsuit states that the emergency declaration shows a “flagrant disregard for the separation of powers. … President Trump has veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making.”
On February 15, 2019, Trump declared a state of emergency on the southern border and directed $8.1 billion to build a border wall.
The lawsuit was filed by Democratic attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia. They said that the emergency declaration would cause their states to lose millions in federal funding and cause environmental damage.
At the time of the filing, the following states with Democratic attorneys general did not join the lawsuit: Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin.
“The states’ lawsuit is likely to stall the implementation of the emergency declaration and generate protracted legal battles that could land before the conservative-dominated Supreme Court. The case may not be resolved before 2020, potentially making Mr. Trump’s plan an issue in the next presidential election,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

North Dakota Senate Republicans pass measure to add unique requirement for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments

On Monday, North Dakota Senate Republicans passed a constitutional amendment that would require citizen-initiated constitutional amendments—after they’ve made it on the ballot and been approved by voters at a statewide election—to then be sent to the legislature for approval. If not approved by the legislature, the measure would be required to go back on the ballot and be approved by voters a second time at the next statewide election.
This amendment was introduced as Senate Concurrent Resolution 4001 on January 3, 2019, by Republican Senators David Hogue, Dick Dever, and Gary Lee. On February 18, 2019, the state Senate passed SCR 4001 by a vote of 31 to 16. Of the 36 Senate Republicans, 31 voted yes while six joined all ten Senate Democrats in voting no. The introduced version of the proposal was designed to give the legislature the last vote on a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, but it was amended to add the provision for a second statewide election. If the House—comprised of 78 Republicans and 15 Democrats—passes the amendment, it will appear on the ballot before voters at the general election on November 3, 2020.
If this measure goes on the ballot and is approved by voters, North Dakota would become the first state to require legislative approval after voter approval for citizen initiatives. Currently, South Carolina is the only state that requires the legislature to approve a legislatively-referred amendment again after voter approval. In Nevada, citizen-initiated constitutional amendments must be passed by voters at two consecutive statewide elections, but the state legislature is not involved in between the elections.
Typically, in states with a process for indirect initiatives, an initiative with a successful signature petition drive is considered first by the state legislature where the initiative—or in some cases legislation deemed equivalent—may be approved by the legislature; otherwise, the measure is placed on the ballot. In some states, an additional round of signatures is required to qualify an initiative for the ballot if the legislature does not approve it.

Kansas lawmaker battling cancer will resign his seat

Kansas state Rep. Greg Lewis (R) announced on February 18, 2019, that he would resign his seat, effective Friday, February 22, 2019. He is resigning after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December 2018.
Lewis has served in the state House representing District 113 since 2015. He was appointed to the chamber in March 2015 to replace J. Basil Dannebohm (R).
Pratt County Republicans will hold a special convention in March to select Lewis’ replacement. The replacement will complete Lewis’s term, which ends in January 2021.
Kansas is one of 14 states with a divided government. Republicans control the state Senate by a 28 to 11 margin with one independent and the state House by an 84 to 41 margin. The governor’s office is held by a Democrat, Laura Kelly.

One year ago: Dallet and Screnock advance in first round of Wisconsin Supreme Court voting

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Wisconsin’s nonpartisan primary election for a seat on the state Supreme Court. Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet placed first and second in the primary, respectively, and advanced to the March 20 general election. Attorney Tim Burns placed last and was eliminated.
Although state Supreme Court elections in Wisconsin are nonpartisan, liberal and conservative groups typically coalesce around specific candidates. Incumbent Michael Gableman, a member of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority, did not seek re-election. Both Dallet and Burns ran with the support of Democratic-aligned groups and were expected to join the court’s liberal wing, while Screnock ran with the support of Republican-aligned groups and was expected to join the court’s conservative wing.
Dallet went on to beat Screnock in the April 3, 2018, election by a margin of 11 percentage points.
Another election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court will take place on April 2, 2019, between Appeals Judge Brian Hagedorn and Appeals Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer. Conservative-aligned groups in the state back Hagedorn and liberal-aligned groups back Neubauer.
Incumbent Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who was appointed to the court in 1976 by a Democratic governor, is not seeking re-election. If conservatives win this seat, it will expand their majority on the court to 5-2. If liberals retain Abrahamson’s seat, it will set up a battle for control of the court in 2020, when Dan Kelly, who was appointed to the court in 2016 by Gov. Scott Walker (R), will stand for election for the first time.

Obama-Obama-Trump pivot counties in 2018 state legislative elections

There are 206 pivot counties in the country-those that voted for Barack Obama (D) in both 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. On November 6, 2018, 87 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers held regularly-scheduled elections for 6,073 seats. Of those, 453 state house districts and 138 state senate districts intersected with pivot counties. These 591 state legislative districts accounted for approximately 10 percent of all state legislative districts up for election in 2018.
Sixty-one districts switched partisan control in the 2018 elections. The elections resulted in a net change of 19 seats in favor of Democrats. The most common changes were:
  • Republican to Democrat: 31 districts
  • Democrat to Republican: 20 districts
  • Split districts to all-Democrats: 10 districts
Democratic candidates for state legislatures in districts that intersected with a pivot county won a net total of 19 seats (3.2 percent of the total they controlled going into the election). Nationally, the party gained 308 seats (9.7 percent of the total they controlled going into the election).
Republicans lost a lower percentage of these seats than they did nationally, 3.3 percent to 7.2 percent.
Across the country, Democrats gained control of six state legislative chambers from Republicans, while losing one chamber (Alaska House) to a power-sharing agreement.