The Ballotpedia News Update

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The Ballotpedia News Update provides a list of the latest news articles on Ballotpedia about elections, politicians and candidates at all levels of government, state policies, ballot measures and more. Use the tabs to navigate to specific weekly reports or news archives. Read more about Ballotpedia's areas of coverage here.


Baraka-backed "Children First Team" dominates Newark's school election

By Margaret Koenig

School Board badge.png

Any lingering doubts about Mayor Ras Baraka's influence on the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board were swept away on Tuesday night as his slate of preferred candidates, the Children First Team (CFT), won one of the last two seats not already held by slate members. Returning candidate Crystal Fonseca and newcomer Dashay Carter won election to the board for the first time while incumbent Marques-Aquil Lewis won his third consecutive term on the board—his second as part of Baraka's CFT.

The CFT candidates faced five other challengers in the election. With eight candidates seeking the three seats up for election, 2015's election was slightly below the district's average of 2.92 candidates filing per seat up for election from 2011 to 2014.

Meanwhile, Passaic Public Schools, the only other district among New Jersey's largest to hold its election in April instead of November in 2015, saw three incumbents retain their seats by defeating a sole returning challenger. Additionally, Passaic voters chose to maintain the current tax levy of $16.8 million, which had been in place for six years.[1]

Incumbents Byron Bustos, Salim Patel and Ronald Van Rensalier won their third consecutive slate campaign together, but they faced a seasoned candidate who had previously challenged all three of them. Rene L. Griggs ran for the board in five prior elections, most recently on April 23, 2014. She faced Bustos, Patel and Van Rensalier in her 2009 campaign, when she placed sixth out of the eight candidates running for the three at-large positions in that election.[1]

Griggs' supporters stated on Tuesday night they may challenge this year's results due to "a late surge in vote totaling that proved decisive" in her defeat. As of the unofficial numbers reported on election night, Griggs was separated from the third-highest vote recipient, Bustos, by more than 400 votes.[1]

State Legislative Tracker: New York Senate leader under investigation

Edited by Jackie Beran
This week’s tracker includes a look at a federal grand jury investigation in New York, the opening prayer in the Iowa State House by a Wiccan priestess and a bill in Tennessee that would make the Holy Bible the official state book.

What's on your ballot? - April 21, 2015

By Ballotpedia staff

Ballotpedia Elections Badge-2015.png
Elections on
April 21, 2015
New Jersey

Elections on April 21, 2015, will include five school board and state legislative races across four states. Three of America's largest school districts, two in New Jersey and one in California, are holding school board elections for three seats each. A pair of vacant state legislative seats, Florida House of Representatives District 64 and Texas House of Representatives District 124, are also up for special election.

In New Jersey, Newark Public Schools and Passaic Public Schools are two of the last school districts to hold elections in April. In 2012, Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed a law that allowed districts to move their school board elections to November. As of the April 2012 elections, 87 percent of districts had chosen to move their elections to November, and now only 18 New Jersey school districts still hold elections in April.[2]

The Newark school board election is complicated by the lack of power held by the Newark Advisory Board. Since 1995, the state government has controlled the school district. Decades of state control and tensions between state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson and the Newark Advisory Board have fostered local resistance from community members and local politicians who oppose Anderson's reform plan, "One Newark."[3] The February 2015 announcement from Gov. Christie that the state would renew Anderson's contract highlighted anew the ongoing turmoil in the district.[4]

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka

The key figure in the Newark race isn't a school board candidate; it's Mayor Ras J. Baraka, who supports local control of the public school system and who denounces the "One Newark" plan.[5]

Over the last four election cycles, Baraka's Children First Team (CFT) candidate slate has accumulated a seven-member majority on the nine-member advisory board. The team first became a part of the advisory board elections in 2011. Baraka was then the South Ward representative on the Newark City Council. He served on the council from 2010 until 2014, when he was elected Mayor of Newark. Baraka has backed three candidates for the advisory board each year. From 2011 to 2014, the CFT has won at least two seats in each election. In 2015, two seats held by CFT members are up for election. Baraka endorsed incumbent Marques-Aquil Lewis and challengers Dashay Carter and Crystal Fonseca to form this year's Children First Team.[6]

The other two school board elections, Passaic in New Jersey and Arcadia in California, are less eventful. In Passaic, at-large incumbents Byron Bustos, Salim Patel and Ronald Van Rensalier face challenger Rene L. Griggs. This is the sixth school board campaign for Griggs and her second attempt to win a seat from Bustos, Patel and Van Rensalier. The three incumbents are running as a slate.[7] In Arcadia, incumbents Kay Kinsler, Cung T. Nguyen and Lori Allison Phillipi are running unopposed and will not appear on the ballot. This is the third consecutive election cycle not to feature a competitive race in the Arcadia Unified School District.[8]

Attorney James Grant (R)

In contrast, both of the state legislative seats up for election have competition.

In Florida, the District 64 seat was vacated due to an invalidated result in the 2014 general election.[9] James Grant (R), who ran unopposed in the primary election on February 10, 2015, will face write-in candidate Daniel John Matthews for the seat. Grant previously held the seat from 2010 to 2014.

In Texas, the District 124 seat was vacated following Jose Menendez's (D) election to the Texas State Senate on February 17, 2015.[10] Four Democratic candidates competed in the special election on March 31, 2015, but the race resulted in a runoff election between the top two vote recipients, Delicia Herrera and Ina Minjarez.

Note: Click on the links below for more details about each race and election results.

The Federal Vacancy Count 4/15/2015

By Courtney Collins

This week's Federal Vacancy Count includes nominations, confirmations and vacancies from April 8, 2015, to April 14, 2015. Nominations, confirmations and vacancies occurring on April 15 will be reflected in the April 22 report.

The first confirmation by the 114th Congress came 102 days into the new year. There are four nominees awaiting votes from the full Senate.

The vacancy warning level remained at blue this week after no new vacancies, no new nominations and one new confirmation. The vacancy percentage fell to 6.2 percent, and the total number of nominees waiting for confirmation fell to 17. The number of vacancies of Article III judges fell to 54 out of 874. A breakdown of the vacancies on each level can be found in the table below. For a more detailed look at the vacancies on the federal courts, see our Federal Court Vacancy Warning System.

April school board elections in California and South Dakota see increase in voter turnout

By Abbey Smith

School Board badge.png

One newcomer and two incumbents were elected to school boards in California and South Dakota in general elections held on April 14, 2015. Both school districts saw higher voter turnouts than in similar past elections, and voters in South Dakota had a chance to vote on a local referendum as well as school board members.

The Burbank Unified School District in California held a general election to determine who would hold the last seat up for election on the board after the other two were won outright by an incumbent and a newcomer in the primary election on February 24, 2015.[11] The two candidates who competed for the open at-large seat are both academics involved in higher education. Armond Aghakhanian, a professor at Woodbury University, defeated fellow challenger Gregory Sousa, a student pursuing his second graduate degree.[12]

In the Sioux Falls School District in South Dakota, two incumbents, Kate Parker and Todd Thoelke, ran against one challenger, a human services case worker named Randy Dobberpuhl, for two at-large seats. Parker, a government programs manager, and Thoelke, a real estate broker, both successfully retained their seats.[13]

A local referendum seeking to change the school start date was also on the ballot in Sioux Falls. Voters rejected the referendum. If it had passed, it would have given the school district the ability to set the school start date before Labor Day.[14]

Both districts saw greater voter turnout than in previous election years. The Burbank school district saw 18.0 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2015 general election according to unofficial election results, which was an increase from the 16.6 percent who turned out for the 2015 primary election. Over 300 fewer ballots were cast in 2013, when voters last elected members to the board.[15] Sioux Falls had approximately 15.6 percent of eligible voters turn out for the election. Though this was lower than the 32.9 percent who turned out in 2014 when the school board election was paired with elections for municipal offices, it was higher than the 3.7 percent who turned out in 2013.[16][17]

January 2015

February 2015

March 2015

April 2015


















  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Record, "North Jersey school elections results: 9 of 10 districts OK proposals," April 21, 2015
  2., "Few N.J. school districts still hold elections, budget votes in April," March 4, 2015
  3. Politicker NJ, "Anderson, One Newark plan grilled by state committee on public schools," January 6, 2015
  4., "State renews contract of embattled Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson," February 27, 2015
  5., "Newark Mayor Ras Baraka says 'One Newark' school plan burdens parents," September 4, 2014
  6., "Ten candidates sign up for Newark school board race," March 4, 2015
  7. The Record, "Lone challenger to face three incumbents in Passaic school board election," March 3, 2015
  8. Pasadena Star News, "With no opposition for 3 incumbents, Arcadia Board of Education cancels spring election," March 24, 2015
  9. Tampa Bay Times, "Governor calls special election for state House 64 seat," November 24, 2014
  10., "Special election March 31 will replace Menendez in House," March 4, 2015
  11. Burbank City Clerk's Office, "Final Results are Tabulated for Burbank’s 2015 Primary Nominating Election," accessed March 9, 2015
  12. Burbank City Clerk's Office, "2015 Election Results," accessed April 14, 2015
  13. South Dakota Secretary of State, "2015 Election Results," accessed April 14, 2015
  14. Argus Leader, "Results: Post-Labor Day start wins; Thoelke, Parker re-elected," April 14, 2015
  15. Burbank City Clerk's Office, "2015 Election Results: Final Results Tabulated for Burbank’s 2015 Primary Nominating Election," accessed April 15, 2015
  16. Argus Leader, "School elections: Another year of 'awful' turnout?," April 14, 2015
  17. Argus Leader, "New school start date: Sept. 8," April 14, 2015