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Ballot Law Update: 2016 Mississippi initiative seeks veto referendum power

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By Josh Altic

This edition of the Ballot Law Update explores the increasingly insistent calls for the powers of initiative and referendum for New Jersey. It also reports on an initiative in Mississippi that proposes the power of referendum.

Mississippi Veto Referendum Amendment, Initiative 44 (2016):

Although Mississippians have the power to indirectly initiate constitutional amendments, which means they can force legislators to consider proposed measures through signature petitions, with the measure going before voters if lawmakers fail to act, they do not have the power to repeal legislation through a veto referendum process. A man named Josh Hardy has proposed an initiative for the 2016 ballot that, upon approval, would provide the power of referendum so that voters could repeal a state law or local ordinance through a petition process.[1]

Fueled by the election, the clamor for I&R powers gets louder in New Jersey:

The many successful initiatives that were featured on November ballots motivated advocates of direct democracy in New Jersey, who have long called for the state legislature to give the citizens the power of initiative, to turn up the volume. Proponents of I&R claim that voters in New Jersey deserve the power to initiate measures on important policies and put them before voters. In order to give the people of New Jersey an appetite for I&R, supporters point to legalized marijuana in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. and minimum wage increases in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, which were all accomplished through initiatives. In an op-ed for The Times of Trenton titled "N.J. voters are left to envy states with initiative and referendum," George Amick wrote, "But, with I&R unavailable in New Jersey, the lawmaking process is a closed loop, with no way for ordinary citizens to break in. It’s a kind of Catch-22: The Legislature will retain the power to originate public policy, and exclude the people, until there’s a change in the constitution — but the constitution can’t be changed until the Legislature acts to change it." Although three bills were introduced in the state legislature in January of 2014, none were acted on or considered throughout the rest of the session.[2]

While supporters point to the important issues and popular policies put before voters by the initiative power, critics of liberal direct democracy powers point to California and Washington as examples of states where initiatives are prolific, claiming this power has introduced laws that are harmful to those states. In an op-ed partially written in response to Amick, Bill Schluter, a former Republican state senator, explained what he saw as the complicated pros and cons of initiatives. On the side of the cons, he expressed the fear that, through I&R, voters could be manipulated by well-funded political campaigns to directly enact policy changes. David Broder, a political columnist for the Washington Post, claimed that I&R “has given the United States something that seems unthinkable — not a government of laws but laws without government.”[3]

Lingering Louisiana school board races to be decided in Dec. 6 runoff

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By Margaret Koenig

Thirty-two school board candidates for districts among Louisiana's largest school districts by enrollment who were unable to garner the 50 percent plus one majority in their respective general election races are sending voters back to the polls. Sixteen seats on nine school boards will be determined in the runoff election on December 6, 2014. Of the eight incumbents facing a runoff election, half were the top vote recipients in their general election contests. Just six of the races will see opponents of differing partisan affiliations; six of the seats will see only Democratic competitors and four will see only Republican competitors.

Three seats went to a runoff in three districts. For the Caddo Parish School Board, District 2 incumbent Jasmine R. Green (D) faces Barbara Johnson Simpson (D), District 8 incumbent Bonita Crawford (R) faces Denee Locke (R) and District 11 incumbent Ginger Armstrong (R) faces Kacee Hargrave Kirschvink (R).

Voters will choose between pairs of newcomers for the Calcasieu Parish School Board as Glenda Gay (D) and Edwina Medearis (D) vie for District 3, Teddie Atterbery Jr. (I) and Dean Roberts (R) vie for District 6 and Becky B. Grove (D) and Alvin Dale Smith (R) vie for District 10.

Two districts are holding runoffs for two seats each. For the Jefferson Parish School Board, Rickeem Jackson (D) and Ricky Johnson (D) face each other in the District 2 contest while Mark Jacobs (R) and Melinda Doucet (R) seek the District 7 seat. District 1 incumbent Roosevelt "Rosey" Thomas (D) and District 9 incumbent Hayes J. Badeaux (D) on the Terrebonne Parish School Board face challengers Joe Thompson (D) and Vicki Bonvillain (R), respectively.

The remaining four districts with runoffs have one seat up for election each. District 1 on the Lafayette Parish School Board will be filled by either "Coach Don" Gagnard (I) and Mary Morrison (D). The race between Robyn Penn Delaney (D) and Jevella Williamson (D) will fill the District 1 seat on the Ascension Parish School Board.

District 12 voters will choose between Albert "Al" Hayes Jr. (D) and Roland Miller (R) for the St. Landry Parish School Board. The District A seat on the Tangipahoa Parish School Board will be decided in the race between Eric Brumfield (D) and Walter Daniels (D).

Third-party candidates expand their influence in 2014 state executive elections


By Nick Katers

State executive elections in 2014 featured myriad close races that provided avenues for third-party, independent and write-in candidates to exert influence. A total of 209 candidates not affiliated with the two major parties were on the ballot for 225 state executive offices on November 4, 2014. Twenty-three races, or 10.2 percent of the races covered by Ballotpedia, featured third-party vote totals that exceeded the margin of victory or led to victory for third-party candidates. In the 22 decided races where third-party candidates received more votes than the margin of victory, Democrats won nine races, Republicans won 11 races and the independent gubernatorial ticket in Alaska won two seats. The Vermont governor's race was not decided at the time of publication with Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) likely to win re-election in a vote by the state legislature.

Third-party candidates were competitive in more state executive races in 2014 than 2012 or 2013. In 2012, there was only one state executive race out of five races on the ballot (20 percent) where third-party candidates exceeded the margin of victory. The 2013 state executive elections featured six races out of 94 seats up for election (6.4 percent) where third-party candidates exceeded the margin of victory.

The following sections detail five state executive races where third-party candidates influenced the outcome of the election. Election results in the sections below are current as of November 25, 2014.

The Tuesday Count: More marijuana, minimum wage measures expected in upcoming elections

Edited by Brittany Clingen

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Marijuana activists think Maine is ripe to become the first Northeastern state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and are hoping to put a measure before voters in 2016. Meanwhile, down South, Texas legislators pre-filed 33 legislatively-referred constitutional amendments to be considered during the 2015 legislative session. At the local level, activists are once again attempting to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour in three different cities.

Marijuana in Maine:
After successfully passing recreational marijuana measures in several Western states, activists are taking their fight to the Northeast in the hopes that Maine will become the first state in that region to approve a ballot measure legalizing and regulating recreational use of the drug. Many Northeastern states have limited direct democracy available, making it harder or, in some cases, impossible for citizens to land measures on the ballot. However, Maine allows citizens to refer measures via indirect initiative, whereby citizens can send a measure to the state legislature if they collect enough signatures. If no action is taken by the legislature, the measure is automatically put before voters. Furthermore, activists view Maine's marijuana-friendly history as an advantage that could help further their cause. Maine decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana almost forty years ago and became the first state in New England to legalize the medical use of the drug 15 years ago. In order to put the measure before the legislature, supporters must collect approximately 61,000 valid signatures by the state's prescribed deadline. So far, a total of eight state ballots have the potential to feature marijuana legalization measures in 2016.[4]

Texas legislators pre-file 2015 legislative referrals:
With just over a month left in 2014, Texas legislators got a jump start on 2015 by pre-filing 33 legislatively referred constitutional amendments that will be considered during next year's session. Topics featured among the batch of bills include term limits, taxes, the minimum wage and marriage. One potential measure that has received media attention is the Protect Religious Freedom Amendment. If it ultimately is sent to the ballot and is approved by voters, the measure would prohibit the government from burdening an individual’s or organization’s freedom to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by "a sincerely held religious belief," unless the government can prove that the burden is to further compelling government interests and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.[1] Opponents of the measure, including some LGBT equality advocates, are concerned the amendment will become a "license to discriminate." Jorge Rodriguez-Jimenez, in an op-ed in The Advocate, said the measure "would allow business owners and services to refuse to serve LGBT customers if doing so would violate their religious beliefs."[5] A two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Texas State Legislature is required to refer this, and all the other proposed amendments, to the ballot. Texas is one of sixteen states that requires a two-thirds supermajority.

Defense Secretary Hagel hands in resignation

By Phil Heidenreich

Washington, D.C.: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, President Obama's only Republican cabinet members submitted his resignation under reported pressure from the president. Administration officials claimed Obama requested his resignation under the belief that the conflict with ISIS would need a different skill set than Hagel brought to the office. Some believe forcing Hagel out was the president's response to publicly perceived weakness in the face of national security issues like the Ebola outbreak and the ISIS threat. Hagel will remain in office until his successor is confirmed.[6]

Hagel took office in 2013 expecting to serve out the term with the administration, according to his aides. He and the president first worked together in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Possible noted replacements included former high-level Defense Department officials Michele Flournoy and Ashton B. Carter, as well as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), though no official decisions as to Hagel's successor have been made.[6] Whoever the president's choice is, they will likely face a rocky road to confirmation after the Republican Party takes control of the Senate for the 114th Congress. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) already argued that the chamber should block all nominees in reaction to Obama's executive order on immigration.[7]

United States Attorney General Eric Holder already announced his plans for resignation from President Barack Obama's cabinet on September 25, 2014.[8] President Obama nominated Loretta Lynch as the next U.S. Attorney General on November 9, 2014. Lynch currently serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.[9]

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