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State supreme courts issue 110 opinions between May 8-14

State supreme courts issued 110 opinions between May 8-14. The North Dakota Supreme Court led the field with 12 opinions issued, closely followed by Pennsylvania with 11 and Arkansas with eight.

Last week’s 110 opinions account for 4% of the year-to-date total of 2,474. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia still sits at the top of the yearly leader board with 178 opinions issued this year, followed by Pennsylvania with 170 and Delaware with 151.

Supreme courts in 18 states have issued fewer than 25 opinions since the start of the year.

Some of the state supreme court opinions issued this year include those in:

  1. Wisconsin, where the court affirmed that an arbitrator did not exceed his powers when disciplining a Green Bay Police Department detective;
  2. Texas, where the court “held that Texas courts have specific jurisdiction over German automobile manufacturers based on their intentional post-sale tampering with affected vehicles that were owned, operated, and serviced in Texas;” and,
  3. Iowa, where the court dismissed the Iowa Department of Human Services’ (DHS) appeal against a district court’s ruling that Iowa’s Medicaid program must pay for sex reassignment surgery.

Supreme courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, and Delaware regularly end the year as some of the country’s most active courts. Collectively, they accounted for 26% of all opinions issued in 2021 and 2022, and, to date, 28% in 2023.

Every state and the District of Columbia have at least one supreme court, known as a court of last resort. Oklahoma and Texas have two courts of last resort, one for civil cases and one for criminal proceedings. Supreme courts do not hear trials of cases. Instead, they hear appeals of decisions made in lower courts. The number of justices on each state supreme court ranges between five and nine.

ICYMI: Top stories of the week

Each week, we bring you a collection of the most viewed stories from The Daily Brew, condensed. Here are the top stories from the week of May 8-May 12.

A roundup of May 6 Texas election results

We covered 47 Texas ballot measures on May 6,nearly three times more than we covered in May Texas elections in 2019 and 2021, mainly due to an increase in bond measures and charter amendments this year.  

San Antonio voters rejected Proposition A 71.6% to 28.4%. 

El Paso voters decided 11 charter amendments, including Proposition K, a citizen initiative related to the climate. Voters rejected Proposition K 83.5% to 16.5%. 

Austin voters decided on two competing initiatives related to police oversight. Voters supported the Equity Action-backed Proposition A and rejected Austin Police Association-backed Proposition B

We also covered mayoral elections in six cities where all incumbents were re-elected. 

Three of those cities—Fort Worth, Garland, and Irving—have Republican mayors, while Dallas has a Democratic mayor. San Antonio’s mayor is an independent. We have been unable to verify the partisan affiliation of Arlington’s mayor. 

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Virginia’s legislative elections have most open-seat races since at least 2011

Virginia is one of four states holding regular state legislative elections this year. 

Overall, 279 major party candidates are running for state legislative offices in Virginia—154 Democrats and 125 Republicans.

Here’s what we know from the candidate lists.

43 districts—or 31% of the state’s 140-member General Assembly—are open-seat races as the incumbent is not running for election. 

This is the most open state legislative seats in Virginia elections since at least 2011, when 20 districts, or 14.3%, were open.

Of the retiring incumbents, 22 are Democrats, and 21 are Republicans. Two districts have incumbent versus incumbent primaries this year:

  • House District 47, with a Republican primary between Reps. Marie March (R) and Wren Williams (R); and,
  • Senate District 18, with a Democratic primary between Sens. Louise Lucas (D) and Lionell Spruill (D).

Virginia has had a divided government since Republicans won the governorship and the House of Delegates in 2021. Republicans have a 50-46 majority in the House with four vacancies. Democrats hold a 22-18 majority in the Senate.

Virginia’s state legislative primaries are on June 20.

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SCOTUS to hear case challenging Chevron deference

On May 1, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, a case that could curb or clarify future applications of Chevron deference in federal courts.

Chevron deference is an administrative law principle courts have cited in thousands of opinions since 1984. 

Under this principle, if federal law is unclear or doesn’t address a specific issue, the agency responsible for its implementation can interpret the law and create rules to fill the gaps. If a court finds the agency’s interpretation reasonable, it will accept the agency’s view rather than replace it with its own interpretation.

Any adjustments to Chevron deference could affect the doctrine’s future application by federal courts in cases relating to administrative law.

If you want to learn more, Ballotpedia has you covered with all the info on Chevron deference, compiled as part of our Administrative State Project. 

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An update on the 2024 presidential campaign

As of May 11, 2023, there are three noteworthy Democratic presidential candidates, six noteworthy Republican candidates, and one noteworthy Republican exploratory committee.

Below is a summary of each candidate’s campaign activity from May 4 to May 11.

  • Democratic candidates
    • Joe Biden  spoke in Hudson Valley, New York, on May 10. He expressed support for raising the debt ceiling and criticized the Republican-backed Limit, Save, Grow Act. He also attended a fundraising event in New York City hosted by former Blackstone executive Tony James.
    • Marianne Williamson  held a town hall in East Palestine, Ohio, on May 9, and is set to speak at a bookstore in Washington, D.C., today.
  • Republican candidates
    • Nikki Haley  held a rally in Greer, South Carolina, on May 4.
    • Vivek Ramaswamy  campaigned in New Hampshire on May 4, and in Michigan from May 6 to May 7. Ramaswamy began a campaign tour of Iowa on May 9, which is set to last through May 13.
    • Corey Stapleton  held a town hall in New Hampshire on May 4.
    • Donald Trump  issued a statement about Ramaswamy, and Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) endorsed Trump on May 5. Trump participated in a CNN televised town hall on May 10.

Additionally, Tim Scott (R), who may announce his presidential candidacy on May 22, held a town hall in Iowa on May 6 and campaigned in New Hampshire from May 8 to May 9.

Other noteworthy candidates include Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (D), Larry Elder (R), and Asa Hutchinson (R).

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Governors issue 26 executive orders from May 1-7

Nationally, governors issued 26 executive orders from May 1-7. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) led the field with 16, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) with three. Governors in 41 states issued the fewest orders with zero.

Governors use executive orders to manage executive branch operations. Last week’s executive orders account for 5% of the year-to-date total of 568. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) leads with 160 orders issued since Jan. 1, followed by DeSantis with 102 and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) with 57.

Georgia and Florida lead in the number of executive orders issued for two reasons: unlike most states, in Georgia, the governor uses executive orders to appoint and reappoint members of state boards and judges. In Florida, also unlike most states, the governor uses executive orders for state attorney executive assignments.

Governors in 16 states have issued fewer than five orders since the start of the year, and those in 11 states have yet to issue any orders. In states with a Republican trifecta, governors issued 363 orders, while governors in states with a Democratic trifecta issued 147. A trifecta is when one political party holds the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. In states where neither party holds trifecta control, governors issued 58 orders.

37 candidates filed for federal and statewide offices last week

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Thirty-seven people declared candidacies for federal or statewide offices in the past week, four more than last week. All of these candidates declared before their state’s official filing deadline.

Twenty of those candidates were Democratic, while 14 were Republican. Three were minor-party candidates.

Twenty-five candidates are running for Congress, eight for state legislatures, two for governorship, and two for a lower state executive office. 

Since the beginning of the year, Ballotpedia has identified 612 declared candidates for federal and statewide offices. At this time in 2021, Ballotpedia had identified 914 declared candidates for 2022, 2023, and 2024 races.

An official candidate is someone who registers with a federal or state campaign finance agency before the candidate filing deadline or appears on candidate lists released by government election agencies. A declared candidate is someone who has not completed the steps to become an official candidate but who might have done one or more of the following:

  • Appeared in candidate forums or debates
  • Published a campaign website
  • Published campaign social media pages
  • Advertised online, on television, or through print
  • Issued press releases
  • Interviewed with media publications

For more on Ballotpedia’s definition of candidacy, click here.

ICYMI: Top stories of the week

Each week, we bring you a collection of the most viewed stories from The Daily Brew, condensed. Here are the top stories from the week of April 24-April 28.

Pennsylvania to hold special elections to—once again—determine control of state House

Two special elections on May 16 will determine partisan control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives following the resignations of Lynda Schlegel Culver (R) and Michael Zabel (D). Culver has run unopposed in every election since 2018, including most recently in her 2022 re-election bid, while Zabel won re-election in 2022 with 64.3% of votes.  

Democrats currently have a one-seat majority in the House, with 101 members to Republicans’ 100.

Regular readers of The Brew will know that we’ve written a lot about Pennsylvania House over the last six months (see here, here, and here, for example). That’s because control of the narrowly divided chamber has shifted between Republicans and Democrats since the November 2022 elections thanks to a series of vacancies and special elections

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Florida voters will decide whether to make their school board elections partisan

Next year, Florida voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would allow for partisan school board elections.

On April 19, the Florida Senate gave final approval to House Joint Resolution 31 (HJR 31), a constitutional amendment that would establish partisan elections for seats on the state’s 67 school boards.

All 28 Republicans and Sen. Linda Stewart (D) voted in favor of the proposal. The chamber’s remaining 11 Democrats voted against it.

We told you about HJR 31 earlier this month after the House approved the proposal 79-34 along party lines.

The amendment will need at least 60% voter approval to pass. The amendment would take effect for the 2026 school board elections if approved.

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Ohio Senate passes measure requiring 60% vote to approve constitutional amendments

On April 19, the Ohio Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR 2), an amendment that would raise the threshold for voters to approve amendments to the Ohio Constitution from a simple majority to 60%. The vote was 26-7 along partisan lines. If the House passes the bill, it could go to voters in August 2023.

Illinois and Florida require a 60% supermajority to approve constitutional amendments.

Click here to read more about supermajority requirements for constitutional amendments. 

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New York adopts revised State Assembly districts

New York enacted new State Assembly district boundaries on April 24, 2023, when Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed legislation establishing them for use starting with the 2024 elections. The State Assembly passed the bill earlier that day by a vote of 132-13, and it passed the state Senate by a vote of 59-1. The New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) had voted 9-1 on April 20, 2023, to advance this plan and submit it to the legislature. The Commission stated in its cover letter that the plan “garnered the highest number of votes in support” at its meeting on that date.

According to Giulia Heyward and Jon Campbell at Gothamist, the new districts replaced “a nearly identical set of districts that were just put into place for last year’s races before a court threw them out.” Heyward and Campbell also wrote, “The commission had originally put forward a draft that would have made considerable changes before settling on a revised proposal last week mirroring the lines already in place.” In the 2022 elections for state Assembly, Democrats won 102 districts, and Republicans won 48.

The state redrew its Assembly district boundaries in response to a 2022 decision by the New York Supreme Court appellate division in Nichols v. Hochul. That court upheld a lower court ruling declaring the state’s Assembly district boundaries invalid. However, it determined that the boundaries should still be used for the 2022 legislative elections since the lawsuit challenging them was filed too close to those elections for the courts to intervene. The appellate division ruling determined that the Assembly district map was enacted in violation of the state’s constitutional redistricting process and ordered a New York City-based state trial court to oversee the redrawing of boundaries for the 2024 elections. On September 29, 2022, that trial court directed the IRC to “initiate the constitutional process for amending the assembly district map based on the 2020 census data by formulating a proposed assembly map” and submit such a plan to the legislature by April 28, 2023.

The districts used for the 2022 elections remain in use until the next elections. The new districts adopted in 2023 will be used for state Assembly elections starting in 2024 until the state conducts redistricting after the 2030 census. The legislation’s language states that “Vacancies in the Assembly will be filled using existing boundaries until January 1, 2025, at which time vacancies will be filled using the new boundaries.”

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie supported the new districts, saying, “I think the [commission] listened to the testimony that was given to them throughout all of the hearings across the state, and I think they came back with a fair map.” Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of Citizens Union, criticized the new boundaries as too similar to the ones already in place: “The new Assembly districts approved by the Independent Redistricting Commission are strikingly similar to the districts drawn by the legislature last year…This similarity suggests that the Commission drew the Assembly maps to please lawmakers.” Citizens Union describes itself on its website as a group “committed to reforming New York City and State government by fostering transparency, accountability, accessibility, honesty and the highest ethical standards.”

Nichols v. Hochul began on May 15, 2022, when three New York residents sued in the New York State Supreme Court challenging the state’s enacted state Assembly maps arguing that the state failed “to Follow Constitutional Procedures for Redistricting Congressional, State Senate, and State Assembly District Maps.” The suit alleged that courts had already invalidated congressional and state Senate maps and that “This Court should enter judgment declaring that the 2022 State Assembly map violates the New York Constitution and is therefore void ab initio.” Kate Lisa at New York State of Politics wrote that the court ruled that “the Assembly maps were invalid because the Legislature drew its own lines after the state Independent Redistricting Commission failed to propose a second set of maps. The Legislature voted down the commission’s initial proposed lines after commissioners failed to reach consensus.”

New York had originally enacted new state legislative boundaries after the 2020 census on February 3, 2022, when Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed legislation that both legislative chambers had approved. The New York State Senate passed them 43-20, and the New York State Assembly passed them 120-27. The New York Independent Redistricting Commission had originally submitted two sets of maps to the legislature in January 2022 after it voted 5-5 on two separate map proposals. The legislature voted against both proposals on January 10, 2022, and the IRC announced on January 24, 2022, that it would not submit a second set of legislative maps to the state legislature for approval.

Additional reading:

President Joe Biden (D) announces re-election bid

On April 25, 2023, exactly four years after he announced his 2020 presidential campaign, President Joe Biden (D) announced his campaign for re-election in 2024. Biden’s entry brings the tally of noteworthy presidential candidates to three Democrats, five Republicans, and one Republican with an exploratory committee.

Below is a summary of each candidate’s campaign activity from April 21 to April 28.

In addition to announcing his campaign, Biden announced his campaign leadership. Senior White House Advisor Julie Chavez Rodriguez will serve as campaign manager. Quentin Fulks, who worked on Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) 2022 re-election campaign, will be deputy campaign manager. Co-chairs for the campaign include Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), former DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (D) issued a statement responding to Biden’s re-election campaign announcement.

Marianne Williamson (D) held an event in New York City on April 22 and campaigned in Michigan on April 24. She also issued a statement responding to Biden’s re-election campaign on April 25.

Nikki Haley (R) delivered a policy speech outlining her position on abortion. From April 26 to April 28, she campaigned in New Hampshire.

Asa Hutchinson (R) held a campaign launch event on April 26 in Bentonville, Ark. He also spoke at an event hosted by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition on April 22.

Vivek Ramaswamy (R) spoke at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event on April 22 and continued campaigning in the state through April 24. He also issued a statement on Biden’s re-election campaign on April 24 and began a four-day campaign tour in South Carolina.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), still exploring a possible presidential campaign, also spoke at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event on April 22 and issued a statement responding to Biden’s re-election campaign on April 25.

Donald Trump (R) held a campaign event in New Hampshire on April 27. He campaigned in Florida on April 21 and released an ad criticizing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) on April 24. Trump also issued a statement on Biden’s re-election campaign on April 24.

Ballotpedia did not identify any campaign activity from former Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton (R).

At this point in the 2020 cycle, 23 noteworthy candidates were running for president. Twenty-one were seeking the Democratic nomination, and two (Trump and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld) were seeking the Republican nomination.

Notable stories at the time included Biden’s presidential campaign announcement on April 25, 2019, Rep. Seth Moulton’s (D-Mass.) campaign announcement on April 22, and three Democratic presidential candidates announcing they supported impeaching then-President Trump.

In the 2016 election, four noteworthy candidates had announced their campaigns as of April 28, 2015. There was one Democrat, the eventual 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton (D), and three Republicans, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). At this point in the 2016 cycle, noteworthy stories included profiles of Republican donors and reporting on former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s (R) preparations for a presidential run.

Additional reading:

State supreme courts issued 91 opinions from April 10-16

State supreme courts issued 91 opinions from April 10-16, 2023. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the North Dakota Supreme Court led the field with nine opinions each, followed by Delaware and Mississippi with seven each.

Last week’s 91 opinions are the fewest in one week this year and account for 4% of the year-to-date total of 1,883. Delaware leads with 123 opinions issued since Jan. 1, followed closely by Pennsylvania with 122 and West Virginia with 119.

Supreme courts in 27 states have issued fewer than 25 opinions since the start of the year. Michigan and Tennessee, with two each, have issued the fewest opinions.

Some of the state supreme court opinions issued this week include those in:

  1. Kentucky, where the court held that the Food Security Act of 1985 (FSA) was preemptive of Kentucky’s Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The UCC allowed security interest to remain when farm products passed from seller to buyer. However, under the meaning of the FSA, the court held that thoroughbreds and the right to breed them are farm products, and any security interest in those products is extinguished when sold to a buyer.
  2. Texas, where the court affirmed the appellate court’s decision to dismiss a case where a driver sued Texas A&M University System for injuries sustained while in a car accident on campus; and.
  3. New York, where the court reversed a defendant’s conviction of rape in the first degree because the defendant’s constitutional right to prompt prosecution was violated.

Supreme courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, and Delaware regularly end the year as some of the country’s most active courts. Collectively, they accounted for 26% of all opinions issued in 2021 and 2022, and, to date, 27% in 2023.

Every state and the District of Columbia have at least one supreme court, known as a court of last resort. Oklahoma and Texas have two courts of last resort, one for civil cases and one for criminal proceedings. Supreme courts do not hear trials of cases. Instead, they hear appeals of decisions made in lower courts. The number of justices on each state supreme court ranges between five and nine.

In 2020, we conducted a study identifying the partisan balance on every state supreme court. You can find that research here. We also identified which justices ruled together most often in our Determiners and Dissenters report found here.

ICYMI: Top stories of the week

Each week, we bring you a collection of the most viewed stories from The Daily Brew, condensed. Here are the top stories from the week of March 27-March 31.

Utah governor signs bill adopting new state flag, veto referendum filed against it

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) signed Senate Bill 31 (SB 31), establishing a new state flag, on March 21. The new flag will become official on March 9, 2024.

The current state flag, adopted in 1911, will be called the historic state flag.

Voters, however, might have the chance to weigh in.

On March 6, after the Legislature approved SB 31, a campaign called the 2023 Utah Flag Referendum filed a veto referendum against the bill. The campaign has until April 12 to submit 134,298 valid signatures. 

Utah is the latest state to attempt a flag redesign. In 2020, Mississippi voters approved a statewide measure adopting a new state flag with 73% of the vote.

The five states that redesigned their flags before Mississippi are:

Louisiana – 2006

Georgia – 2003

South Dakota – 1992

Nevada – 1991

Florida – 1985

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In five states, the state superintendent of schools is included in the gubernatorial line of succession 

On March 16, the Indiana Senate voted to refer a constitutional amendment to the November 2024 ballot that would remove the superintendent of public instruction from the gubernatorial line of succession.

The superintendent of public instruction is sixth—and last—in Indiana’s gubernatorial line of succession, following the secretary of state, the state auditor, the state treasurer, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the president pro tem of the State Senate. 

Five states include the superintendent of schools in the gubernatorial line of succession:Arizona (fourth in line), North Carolina (sixth), Oklahoma (seventh) , Washington (sixth), and of course, Indiana.

Here’s who comes first in the gubernatorial line of succession across the country:

  • In the 45 states with a lieutenant governor, that individual is the first in the line of succession. That includes West Virginia and Tennessee, where the state Senate presidents serve as lieutenant governor ex officio.
  • In Maine and New Hampshire, the president of the state senate is first in line to succeed the governor. 
  • In Arizona, Oregon, and Wyoming, the secretary of state is first in line to succeed the governor.

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Florida expands education savings account (ESA) program

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill on March 27 expanding the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship program. The expanded program will provide all K-12 students not attending public schools with around $7,500 for educational expenses outside of the public school system, including private school tuition, tutoring, and homeschooling expenses. 

The Family Empowerment Scholarship was created in 2014 and provides eligible students—such as those with disabilities or from low-income families—with funding to defray private school tuition or tutoring costs.

Florida is the fourth state in 2023 to expand its existing ESA program to cover all students. Utah, Iowa, and Arkansas did so as well. Arizona and West Virginia expanded their ESA programs to all students in 2022.

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ICYMI: Top stories of the week

Each week, we bring you a collection of the most viewed stories from The Daily Brew, condensed. Here are the top stories from the week of March 13-March 17.

More than 24,000 school board seats up for election in 2023

Nine-thousand school districts across 35 states (69% of the nation’s 13,500 public school districts, governed by 83,000 school board members) are holding regular school board elections in 2023.

Approximately 24,100 school board seats are up for regular election in 2023 in these districts, representing 36% of the 66,831 total school board seats in those 35 states.

Ballotpedia’s school board coverage in 2023 will expand to cover 8,750 school board seats in 3,211 school districts across 28 states. This includes comprehensive coverage in these 10 states: Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

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A look at this year’s early voting periods

Eight states—Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington—are holding statewide elections this year.

Nationwide, 46 states permit some form of no-excuse early voting. Of the eight states holding statewide elections this year, all but Mississippi allow no-excuse early voting in some form. (Mississippi does allow voters to cast absentee/mail-in ballots early, but only under certain circumstances.)

Virginia has the longest statutory early voting period this year at 44 days. But some voters in Pennsylvania might have a similar or longer early voting period. 

Pennsylvania doesn’t have a statewide, statutory early voting period. Instead, each county sets its own rules, and voters should check their county’s website for specifics. But early voting is usually available for four to six weeks, typically starting once ballots are finalized and available.

Kentucky’s early voting period lasts three days for its primary and general elections. New Jersey also has a three-day window, but for the primary only. Voters there have nine days of early voting before the general election.

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Special general election for Wisconsin state Senate District 8 will determine if Republicans regain supermajority

Jodi Habush Sinykin (D) and Daniel Knodl (R) are running in a special election for Wisconsin State Senate District 8 on April 4. The results will determine if Republicans regain the supermajority in the chamber they acquired following the Nov. 8, 2022, elections. 

Alberta Darling (R) represented the district since she was elected in 1992. Her Dec. 1, 2022, retirement  reduced Senate Republicans’ 22-member supermajority to a 21-member majority. 

A party with a supermajority would have the votes necessary to suspend Senate rules, which would speed up the legislative process, and hold impeachment trials of state officials. 

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