Close races and coin flips

Challenger Michelle Kennedy edged out incumbent Mike Barber by 99 votes on November 7 to pick up the third at-large seat on the Greensboro City Council in North Carolina. Challenger Robert Holden defeated incumbent Elizabeth Crowley by fewer than 140 votes to claim the District 30 seat on the New York City Council.

  • Close as those elections were, though, they were not the most closely contested local races in November. At least four local elections were decided by a coin toss after the candidates tied at the ballot box. Republican incumbent Michael Eremita, who tied with Democratic challenger Kim Miller at 718 votes, won a coin flip on November 14 to keep his seat on the Bolton Board of Selectmen in Connecticut. Kansans Michael Knierim and William Young each received 35 votes in the at-large race for Mission Woods City Council, with Young winning a coin toss on November 13 to claim the fifth available seat. Idaho saw at least two coin flips, with challenger Glen Loveland tying Heyburn City Councilman Dick Galbraith at 112 votes and White Bird City Council candidates Barbara Lowe and Paul Sand taking 26 votes apiece. Loveland won his coin flip on November 15 to unseat Galbraith, and Lowe won hers on November 16 to claim the seat in White Bird.
  • Greensboro is the third-largest city in North Carolina and the 68th-largest city in the country. New York City is the largest city in New York and in the country as a whole. According to the U.S. Census’ 2016 estimates, Bolton and Mission Woods have populations of 4,930 and 198, respectively. Heyburn has 3,275 residents, and White Bird has 91.

Louisiana holds elections

Today, voters in Louisiana will go to the polls to elect a new state treasurer, New Orleans will choose its next mayor and two city councilmen, and two Republicans will go head-to-head in a runoff election for Louisiana House of Representatives District 77.

  • Elections in Louisiana follow a unique system reminiscent of a top-two or blanket primary system. In Louisiana elections, all candidates are featured on the same primary ballot regardless of party affiliation. If one candidate receives a majority of the vote during the first round of voting, that candidate wins the election outright. If no candidate receives a majority during the primary election, then the top two finishers advance to a general election. This is not to be confused with the top-two primary system in place in California and Washington, in which the top two candidates always advance to the general election regardless of whether the top finisher received a majority of the vote.

Revised draft of North Carolina legislative district maps issued by court-appointed special master

Nate Persily, the special master appointed to assist the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in evaluating North Carolina’s state legislative district plans, issued draft revisions to those plans. Persily noted that “these draft plans are provided at this early date to give the parties time to lodge objections and to make suggestions, as to unpairing incumbents or otherwise, that might be accommodated in the final plan,” which is due to the court by December 1, 2017.

  • The district maps in question were adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in August in response to a series of federal court decisions finding that the original maps, which were adopted by the state legislature in 2011, constituted an illegal racial gerrymander. On October 26, the district court appointed Persily, a Stanford University law professor, as special master to assist in the case. At that time, the court indicated that the redrawn maps for Senate Districts 21 and 28 and House Districts 21, 36, 37, 40, 41, 57, and 105 “either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation or are otherwise legally unacceptable.”

Proponents of a 2018 marijuana legalization initiative in Michigan plan to submit signatures after making final payments to petition management company

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced last week that it planned to submit about 360,000 signatures for its initiative to legalize recreational marijuana on Monday, November 20. The group needs at least 252,523 of those signatures to be found valid and less than 180 days old for the Michigan initiative petition to qualify as sufficient. If enough signatures are verified, then the state legislature has 40 days to adopt or reject the proposal. If Michigan lawmakers reject the initiative or take no action, then the measure would be placed on the November 2018 ballot. The group hoped to submit signatures last week, but it did not have the funds available to pay the final $30,000 payment to National Petition Management, the signature drive management company the group hired to collect signatures. The company was holding the final installment of signatures until the final payment was made. The total signatures collected included 250,288 that employees of the petition drive company had verified themselves, according to Lisa Satori, a coordinator for the effort.

  • The measure would legalize the personal possession and use of marijuana for persons 21 years of age or older. It would allow individuals to possess, use, transport, or process 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana or 15 grams of marijuana concentrate, and individuals would be allowed to grow up to 12 marijuana plants in their residences for personal use.
  • The measure would also legalize the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of industrial hemp and authorize the department of licensing and regulatory affairs to license marijuana retailers, testing facilities, transporters, processing facilities, cultivators, and other marijuana-related businesses. Under the initiative, the regulatory department would be responsible for deciding testing, packaging, and labeling standards for marijuana, and municipalities would be allowed to ban or limit marijuana establishments within their boundaries.
  • The initiative was designed to levy an excise sales tax of 10 percent on marijuana businesses, in addition to the existing 6 percent state sales tax rate. Revenue from this tax would be distributed as follows: (a) 15 percent to municipalities with a marijuana retail store or a microbusiness; (b) 15 percent to counties with a marijuana retail store or a microbusiness; 35 percent to the school aid fund to be used for K-12 education; and (d) 35 percent to the state transportation fund for the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges.
  • Several effortsto put marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in 2016 were unsuccessful. During the 2016 efforts, key marijuana activist groups and supporters were divided between the efforts. This 2018 initiative, however, received unified backing from the Marijuana Policy Project, MI Legalize, Michigan Cannabis Coalition, Michigan NORML, the National Patients Rights Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Marijuana Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, and the National Cannabis Industry Association. Recent support from the National Cannabis Industry Association was an important factor in pushing the group past the fundraising hurdle that allowed them to pay for the last batch of signatures, according to Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the proponent group. One other marijuana legalization initiative, an initiated constitutional amendment, was also filed targeting the 2018 ballot.

Sexual misconduct allegations prompt responses from Congress and 17 state capitols

Shortly after allegations of sexual harassment against film producer Harvey Weinstein became public in October 2017, stories of sexual misconduct in American politics began to emerge. As of November 17, Ballotpedia has identified official responses or organized campaigns related to sexual misconduct allegations in Congress and 17 state capitols. We have also identified two resignations from state legislatures due to sexual misconduct allegations.

After provisional ballots are counted, Republicans lead three uncalled Virginia House races

  • On November 13 and 14, provisional ballots were counted for threeVirginia House races that are too close to call. Republicans maintained leads in all three races and remained on track to control the Virginia House in January 2018 by a 51-49 margin. The three Democratic candidates in these races can ask for recounts after the results are certified by the State Board of Elections next week. Because Democrats won 49 seats of the chamber’s 100 seats on November 7, they would need to win at least one seat to force the chamber into a 50-50 tie and at least two seats to take control of the chamber for the first time since the early 1990s.
    • Republicans have controlled the Virginia House since the late 1990s and held a 66-34 majority heading into the November 7 election. Democrats won 15 seats on election night (not counting the three that are too close to call), with 14 of those wins coming in districts that Hillary Clinton (D) won in the 2016 presidential election.Accordingto Democratic Leader David Toscano, this was the first time Democrats had won more than five seats in a single year since 1975. Regardless of the outcomes of the three races, Virginia will be under divided government from 2018 to 2019 because Republicans hold a 21-19 majority in the state Senate. Democrat Ralph Northam was elected governor on November 7, and his term will not expire until 2021.

Special Elections
As of this week, 83 state legislative seats have been filled through special elections in 2017, and another 15 special elections have been scheduled in nine states. Elections have been held for 37 Democratic seats and 46 Republican seats. Democrats have flipped 13 seats as a result of special state legislative elections in 2017. Republicans have flipped one seat. In special elections between 2011 and 2016, one party (either Republicans or Democrats) saw an average net gain of three seats across the country each year. The number of net seats won and lost by Democrats and Republicans in state legislative special elections in 2017 has, so far, been similar to prior years.

  • An average of 89 seats was filled through special elections in each of the past three odd years (2011: 94, 2013: 84, 2015: 88).
  • An average of 44 seats was filled through special elections in each of the past four even years (2010: 26, 2012: 45, 2014: 40, 2016: 65).

Connecticut budget fix approved by General Assembly

On November 15, the Connecticut House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill that proponents say will fix flaws in the state budget that was signed into law by Gov. Dan Malloy (D) on October 31. According to The Connecticut Mirror, the fixes applied to the state’s hospital tax and a renters’ rebate program. The budget fix passed the House by a 123-12 vote just one day after it passed the state Senate 34-0. Malloy said he would sign it into law. Opponents of the budget fix said that it would require towns to assume $8.5 million in costs from the renters’ rebate program and that the costs would not be equitably distributed based on a community’s income level.

  • The original budget deal passed both chambers of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on October 26. It had been negotiated by Democratic and Republican legislative leaders without input from Malloy’s office. It passed the state Senate by a 33-3 margin and the state House by a 126-23 margin, both large enough to override a potential veto by Malloy.
  • When Malloy signed the budget on October 31, Connecticut ended a 123-day period without having a spending and taxation plan in place. This was the longest period of time the state had ever gone without a budget. The second-longest period was in 1991 when legislators debated whether to create a state income tax.

Keller wins Albuquerque mayoral runoff despite campaign finance violation

The city of Albuquerque held runoff elections for mayor and one city council seat. After advancing from a general election held on October 3, 2017, Timothy Keller (D) defeated Albuquerque City Councilman Dan Lewis in the runoff election. Although the city’s elections are officially nonpartisan, Lewis is considered a Republican. In the District 5 race for city council, Cynthia Borrego defeated Robert Aragon by 8 percentage points. The additional races in Districts 1, 3, 7, and 9 were decided in the general election on October 3, 2017.

  • Just one day before the runoff election was held, an ethics board ruledthat Keller broke campaign finance rules. While no penalties were imposed against Keller, the board said he broke campaign finance laws when his publicly funded campaign accepted in-kind cash donations. Keller’s opponent, Dan Lewis, released a statement saying Keller “lied to Albuquerque voters and illegally worked with his political allies to funnel cash to his campaign.” Keller responded saying he accepted the board’s decision and the ruling “gave needed clarity going forward.” Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico and the 32nd-largest city in the U.S. by population.