TagBP Analysis

In four states, no state or federal officials have tested positive for COVID-19

Between the start of the coronavirus pandemic and March 18, 2021, no elected or appointed state or federal officials announced positive COVID-19 test results in four states—Delaware, Maryland, Oregon, and Vermont. In the 46 other states, Ballotpedia has identified at least one COVID-19 positive state or federal official within our coverage scope. State and federal officials include members of Congress, state legislators, and state executive officeholders.

The first COVID-19 positive state officials identified by Ballotpedia were New York state Reps. Helene Weinstein (D) and Charles Barron (D), who announced positive test results on March 14, 2020. The first members of Congress to test positive were Reps. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl.), who made their announcements March 18.

Since then, Ballotpedia has identified 215 candidates and officials diagnosed with COVID-19 at the state level, and 69 candidates and officials with COVID-19 at the federal level.

The state with the highest number of publicly identified COVID-19 state and federal officials is Pennsylvania, where two U.S. House members, the governor, and 17 members of the state legislature have tested positive since March 2020.

To read more about federal, state, and local officials and candidates affected by COVID-19, click the link below.

Ballotpedia’s analysis of California’s 2020 local ballot measures

California voters decided 719 local ballot measures across seven different election dates in 2020. 

Here are some highlights from Ballotpedia’s annual report on local ballot measures in California:

• Voters approved 62.4% percent of California’s local measures in 2020, which was 14 and 15 percentage points lower than their approval rates in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

• Bond and tax measures made up 70% of the local measures on the ballot in California.

• There were local ballot measures in every California county in 2020 but one. Los Angeles County had the most measures at 109. The median number of measures per county was nine.

• There were 191 local bond issues on ballots across California in 2020. Of that total, 182 (95.8%) were school bond issues.

• The approval rate for school bond measures in 2020 of 50.5% was the lowest in any even-numbered year since at least 2008. The average approval rate for school bond measures in even-numbered years from 2008 through 2018 was 83%.

• Local school bond measures proposed $30.7 billion in new debt. Voters approved $18.7 billion and rejected $12.0 billion.

• Voters in two cities in California approved measures to enact ranked-choice voting for city elections.

• There were eight local measures concerning law enforcement policies, police oversight, police practices, or law enforcement budgeting, not including tax measures designed to provide funding for law enforcement services. All eight measures were approved.

• Voters approved 46 (44.66%) and rejected 57 (55.34%) of the 103 parcel tax measures on the ballot. In 2018, voters approved 65% of parcel tax measures. In 2016, voters approved 64% of parcel tax measures.

• Voters approved 93 sales tax measures (71.5%) in 2020 and rejected 37 (28.5%). In 2018, voters approved 84% of sales tax measures. In 2016, voters approved 69% of sales tax measures.

California voters also decided 13 statewide ballot measures. Click here to read more about the 2020 statewide measures.

Ballotpedia covers all statewide ballot measures, all local ballot measures in the 100 largest cities in the U.S., all local ballot measures in California, and a selection of other notable measures. In 2021, Ballotpedia will also cover all state capitals outside of the nation’s 100 largest cities.

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Trump has appointed second-most federal judges through December 31 of a president’s fourth year

Donald Trump has appointed and the U.S. Senate has confirmed 234 Article III federal judges through December 31, 2020, his fourth year in office. This is the second-most Article III judicial appointments through this point in all presidencies since Jimmy Carter (D). The Senate had confirmed 261 of Carter’s appointees at this point in his term.

The average number of federal judges appointed by a president through December 31 of their fourth year in office is 205.

The median number of Supreme Court justices appointed is two. President Donald Trump (R) has appointed three Supreme Court justices. Presidents Barack Obama (D), Bill Clinton (D), and George H.W. Bush (R) had each appointed two Supreme Court justices at this point in their first terms. Ronald Reagan (R) had appointed one, while Carter and George W. Bush (R) had not appointed any.

The median number of United States Court of Appeals appointees is 35. Carter appointed the most with 56, and Presidents Clinton and Obama appointed the fewest with 30 each. Trump’s 54 appointments make up 30.2% of the total 179 judgeships across the courts of appeal.

The median number of United States District Court appointees is 168. Carter appointed the most with 202, and President Reagan appointed the fewest with 129. Trump has appointed 174 district court judges so far. Those appointments make up 25.7% of the 678 judgeships across the district courts.

Article III federal judges are appointed for life terms by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate per Article III of the United States Constitution. Article III judges include judges on the: Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. courts of appeal, U.S. district courts, and the Court of International Trade.

Additional reading:

Ballot measure records and firsts in 2020

2020 was a unique year for statewide ballot measures. Here are 12 ballot measure-related stories from 2020 that either never happened before or hadn’t happened in a very long time.

  1. Ballot measure campaign finance records were set nationally and in four states: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Alaska.
  2. Gig economy policies appeared on a statewide ballot for the first time.
  3. Voters passed measures to enact a legal psilocybin mushroom program and drug decriminalization for all drugs for the first time.
  4. Legislators (rather than an initiative signature petition) put a marijuana legalization measure on the ballot for the first time.
  5. Voters decided the first-ever ballot measure on a state-run paid sick and parental leave program.
  6. A state adopted top-four primaries for the first time.
  7. Voters decided a statewide measure proposing a $15 per hour minimum wage for the first time.
  8. Voters, rather than legislators, decided to add their state to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
  9. Statewide initiatives qualified for the ballot through electronic signature petition drives for the first time.
  10. The first measure was referred to the ballot for Louisiana’s December election since at least 1974.
  11. The first constitutional amendments of local applicability were put on the statewide Alabama ballot according to a 2016 process change.
  12. Voters approved the first ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves.

Recall efforts in 2020 rose by nearly 50% compared to 2019

Ballotpedia’s year-end analysis of 2020’s state and local recall efforts found that there were 226 recall efforts against 272 officials this year, compared to 151 efforts against 230 officials in 2019. This was a 49.7% year-over-year increase in recall efforts and an 18.3% increase in officials who faced recall efforts. Over a five-year span, 2020 had the third-highest number of recall efforts; 2016 had the most with 282.

However, 2020 had the lowest success rate for recall efforts. Out of those 226 recall efforts, 29 were approved for a success rate of 12.8%. This was lower than the success rates of 22.5% in 2019, 37.4% in 2018, 14.9% in 2017, and 19.9% in 2016.

California had the most recall efforts of any state in 2020 with 39, but adjusted for population, Idaho and North Dakota had the most recalls per 100,000 residents with 0.67 and 0.66, respectively. The three types of elected officials who faced the most recall efforts were city council members (35% of all efforts), school board members (22%), and mayors (19%).

Four of the five notable recall efforts in Ballotpedia’s year-end report were connected to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) was the subject of 20 recall efforts in 2020, nine of which were approved for petition signature circulation. Recall proponents criticize Whitmer’s executive orders responding to the pandemic.
  • Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney in Washington is facing recall due to his April announcement that his office would not enforce the restrictions Gov. Jay Inslee (D) had set in place in response to the pandemic.
  • A majority of the Pocatello-Chubbuck school board in Idaho is facing recall due to their September vote approving a hybrid teaching model that uses a mixture of in-person and online instruction for students due to the pandemic.
  • Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant in Washington is facing recall due to allegations she had disregarded COVID-19 regulations, misused city funds, misused her official position, and relinquished the authority of her office to an outside political organization.

The fifth notable recall effort in the year-end report centered on Stevensville Mayor Brandon Dewey in Montana, who was accused of violating his oath of office by signing a $79,800 contract with a technology vendor without receiving approval from the town council first.

Additional reading:

Biden wins all six Reverse-Pivot Counties that voted McCain-Romney-Clinton

Following the 2016 presidential election, Ballotpedia identified six Reverse-Pivot Counties that voted for Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016 after voting for John McCain (R) in 2008 and Mitt Romney (R) in 2012. 

All six of 2016’s Reverse-Pivot Counties voted for Biden in 2020.

These counties have a median population of 785,915. Voters there cast 4,015,613 ballots, representing 2.5% of all votes cast in the 2020 presidential election. All six are located in or near major metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Houston.

As of Dec. 11, Joe Biden (D) won all six of 2016’s Reverse-Pivot Counties by an average margin of 14.54 percentage points, roughly triple Clinton’s average margin of 4.96 in 2016.

The shift represents a continuing trend in these counties from supporting Republican presidential candidates towards supporting Democrats. Since 2008, when McCain won these counties, margins of victory have shifted 20.18 percentage points from Republicans to Democrats, on average.

30% of seats nationwide were uncontested in the 2020 general election

Ballotpedia covered all federal and state races on November 3, 2020, as well as local elections in America’s 100 largest cities by population. Of the 9,671 seats on the November ballot, 2,900 seats (30%) were uncontested. A race was considered uncontested if the number of candidates who filed for election was less than or equal to the number of seats on the ballot.

The states with the highest percentage of uncontested seats were Massachusetts and Alabama. In Massachusetts, 160 (73%) of 219 seats were uncontested on the November ballot. In Alabama, 34 (72%) of 47 seats were uncontested.

Other highlights from this analysis include:

  • Federal races: Alabama had the highest percentage of uncontested congressional seats on the ballot at 38%.
  • State executive races: In Massachusetts, all eight state executive seats on the ballot were uncontested.
  • State legislative races: Excluding Mississippi, since it held one state legislative special election, Massachusetts had the highest percentage of uncontested seats at 75%.
  • State judicial races: In North Dakota and Alabama, all of the state judicial races were uncontested.
  • Local races: In Wisconsin, all eight races across Dane and Milwaukee counties were uncontested in the November election.

Additional reading:

Incumbent governors had a 100% re-election rate in 2020

Eleven states held elections for governor this year, including nine where the incumbent ran for re-election. All nine governors up for re-election won another term this year.

Republicans had greater partisan risk in 2020; the eleven states electing a governor included seven with Republican governors and four with Democratic governors. Republicans won eight of those races to Democrats’ three. The only state where control of the governorship changed was Montana, where Greg Gianforte (R) was elected to succeed Steve Bullock (D).

Gianforte is the first Republican to win election as governor of Montana since 2000. His election gives the Republican Party its first trifecta (unified control of the governorship and legislature) in the state since Democrats flipped the governorship in 2004. Montana’s 16 years without a state government trifecta is the longest among any state currently without one.

Outgoing Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) was the only governor prevented from running for re-election by term limits this year. The other outgoing governor, Gary Herbert (R-Utah), chose not to run for a third full term. Herbert, who took office in 2009, is the nation’s longest-serving governor currently in office.

Both parties were defending the governorship in two states where the other party’s presidential candidate won in 2016. Republican governors won re-election in New Hampshire and Vermont, which both went to Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016 and Joe Biden (D) in 2020. Democrats were defending governorships in both Montana and North Carolina, which President Trump (R) carried in both elections. While Republicans flipped the governorship in Montana, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) won a second term.

After Governor-elect Gianforte is sworn in Jan. 4, Republicans will hold 27 governorships nationwide to Democrats’ 23; the same totals both parties held after the 2018 election (Democrats flipped the Kentucky governorship in 2019). Democrats last held a majority of governorships nationwide in 2010.

In 2016, the same eleven states (and Oregon) held gubernatorial elections. That year, Republicans gained three governorships (in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont), while Democrats gained one, in North Carolina.

Additional reading:

13 percent of open congressional seats changed party hands in 2020

Forty congressional incumbents—four in the Senate and 36 in the House—did not run for re-election in 2020. Of these 40 open seats, five (12.5 percent) changed party hands as a result of the 2020 elections. All five changes occurred in the House, where Democrats picked up three open seats previously held by Republicans and Republicans picked up two open seats—one held by a Democrat and the other by a Libertarian. Those seats were:

  1. Georgia’s 7th (Republican to Democrat)
  2. Iowa’s 2nd (Democrat to Republican)
  3. North Carolina’s 2nd (Republican to Democrat)
  4. North Carolina’s 6th (Republican to Democrat)
  5. Michigan’s 3rd (Libertarian to Republican)

In Iowa’s 2nd, certified results showed Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) beating Rita Hart (D) by six votes. Hart indicated she would challenge the results of the election with the U.S. House. 

The group of 40 incumbents who did not run for re-election included 10 Democrats, 29 Republicans, and one Libertarian. They represented 8.5 percent of all 470 Congressional offices up for election.

Across all 2020 Congressional elections, 16 seats changed hands. Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate while Republicans picked up one. In the House, Democrats picked up three seats while Republicans picked up 10 seats.

A closer look at voter turnout in Retained and Boomerang Pivot counties

Ballotpedia has been analyzing the 206 Pivot Counties that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. This year, we have introduced two new categories: Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again in 2020, and Boomerang Pivot Counties, which voted for Joe Biden (D).

Based on unofficial results that are subject to change, Ballotpedia has identified 181 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties.

Voter turnout in these counties has increased compared to 2016.

Nationwide, voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election was the highest since 1900 at 69.25%. Retained Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 67.81%, 1.44 percentage points below the nationwide rate, and Boomerang Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 71.64%, 2.39 percentage points above the national rate.

The 2020 presidential election saw a continuation of the trend where turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties exceeds that in Retained Pivot Counties. In 2020, the total turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties was 3.83 percentage points higher than the turnout in Retained Pivot Counties. Since 2008, the total turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties has exceeded that in Retained Pivot Counties by an average of 3.95 percentage points.

Seventy-nine percent of Retained Pivot Counties (143) and 76% of Boomerang Pivot Counties (19) recorded their highest turnouts since at least 2008.

Nationwide, voter turnout increased by 8.21 percentage points compared to 2016. All Retained Pivot Counties except for two—Woodruff County, Arkansas, and Benson County, North Dakota—saw increases in voter turnout compared to 2016. Voter turnout increased in every Boomerang Pivot County.

The table below shows the ten Pivot Counties with the largest increases in voter turnout compared to 2016. Of the ten, nine are in states that automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballots to voters during the presidential election. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington routinely conduct all-mail elections. New Jersey conducted its 2020 presidential election by mail in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Retained Pivot Counties are shown with red dots and Boomerang Pivot Counties with blue dots.