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This Week in Statehouse Action: Think Twice edition
Why we might be waiting a while for results in Virginia and what to watch on Tuesday, plus Mississippi, Ohio, and New Jersey
The 2023 elections are just a few days away, and yes, they’re pretty much all I’m thinking about.
I figure most of my erudite readers don’t live in states with elections on Tuesday, Nov. 7, and I like to think that you’re thinking other thoughts.
But also, despite the fact that they’re relatively few in number, next week’s elections are super super important, so here’s a little crib sheet to help you know about stuff without having to think too hard about stuff.
Obviously, we’ve gotta start with Virginia.
It’s not the only thing on my mind, but, like, only technically.
Another thing I’m thinking is that I honestly don’t think we’re going to know which party has majority control of which chamber on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.
Well, nothing about this election suggests it’s going to be a sweep for either side.
And it’s really quite common for state legislative races to come down to just a few hundred votes.
Real ones remember 2017, when not only were many races decided by just a few hundred votes, majority control of the House of Delegates came down to a drawing from a bowl after some judges’ (frankly questionable) ruling resulted in the HD-64 race being tied.
So when ballot tallies resolve on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and a race has come down to just a couple hundred votes (or fewer!), the provisional ballots cast in the election suddenly become REALLY REALLY important.
And because of the extra verification required, they take longer to count.
Then there’s the matter of absentee ballot curing.
Absentee ballots that are returned by mail but lack a crucial piece of information on that outside envelope containing the actual ballot — specifically:
The voter’s last name;
The voter’s house number, street name, or rural route address;
Either the voter’s city or zip code;
The voter’s signature
The voter’s birth year; or
The last four digits of the voter’s social security number
… are set aside until the voter has the opportunity to fix, or “cure,” the missing info so their vote will count.
Voters whose mail ballots received by Friday, Nov. 3, that are missing one or more of the above will be notified by their local registrar that they need to provide X info by noon of the third business day after the election – in this case, Monday, Nov. 13, because Veteran’s Day is observed on what would have been that third day this year.
But what if a voter doesn’t check their mail in time to get the notice? Or their vote arrives in that window between Friday and Nov. 7?
This is why both parties will still be extremely busy in the days after the actual election.
Armed with voter file data, both Democratic and Republican operatives will be able to see whose ballots risk rejection, and they’ll “chase” them so they can be cured in time to count.
And based on a recent analysis by the attorney who’s heading up the Democratic Party of Virginia’s voter protection effort, Democrats will have a lot more ballot curing to do than Republicans.
According to Aaron Mukerjee, a disproportionate proportion of absentee ballots cast by voters of color are being rejected statewide.
And some of the highest disparities are occurring in areas near Richmond and Hampton Roads, which, as you might recall, are home to some of Virginia’s hottest (and likely closest) races.
The rejection rate in Henrico County is 6.6% among African American voters and just 3.0% among white voters.
In Newport News, 6.0% of African American voters’ ballots have been rejected, compared with just 3.2% of those cast by white voters.
Statewide, Black voters’ mail-in ballots are being rejected at more than twice the rate of those of white voters: 5.2% of vs. 2.5% as of Oct. 27.
Other non-white voters are also having their ballots rejected at a disproportionate rate: 3.4% of Latino voters’ absentee ballots and 3.2% of AAPI voters’ absentee ballots, specifically.
While these rates are obviously pre-cure, which will (hopefully) bring the rejected ballot rate way, way down, they still seem awfully high, even among white voters.
Because it’s a final rejection rate, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but an MIT study of Virginia absentee ballots cast in the 2020 election found that just .64% were rejected that year.
So far in 2023, 2.92% of all voters’ absentee ballots have been rejected statewide.
I actually reached out to the Virginia Department of Elections to see if they had anything to say about the high rejection rate or the racial disparities, but it’s been crickets from them.
Youngkin’s DOE happens to be run by longtime Republican political operative Susan Beals, so I wasn’t exactly holding my breath, but still.
Okay, enough weedy why-we-might-not-know-who-controls-which-chamber-until-the-week-after-the-election stuff.
Here’s a quick rundown of the races I’ll be watching on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning/etc.
House of Delegates (District: D/R candidate):
HD-21: Josh Thomas/John Stirrup
HD-22: Travis Nembhard/Ian Lovejoy
HD-57: Susanna Gibson/David Owen
HD-58: Rodney Willet/Riley Shaia
HD-65: Joshua Cole/Lee Peters
HD-71: Jessica Anderson/Amanda Batten
HD-82: Kimberly Pope Adams/Kim Taylor
HD-97: Michael Feggans/Karen Greenhalgh
State Senate (ditto):
HD-16: Schuyler VanValkenburg/Siobhan Dunnavant
SD-17: Clint Jenkins/Emily Brewer
SD-24: Monty Mason/Danny Diggs
SD:-27: Joel Griffin/Tara Durant
SD-31: Russet Perry/Juan Pablo Segura
Also worth noting for post-election Hot Takes: If Democrats keep the majority in the state Senate, that chamber is gonna get a LOT more liberal without the likes of Joe Morrissey, Chap Petersen, and Dick Saslaw in the caucus.
There is a world outside of Virginia this year, and Mississippi is absolutely part of it.
Since Democrats have no practical chance of winning either chamber of the Mississippi legislature this year, I won’t be watching those races very closely, but if Democrats can pick up seats in a state where pretty much everything is stacked against them, that’s frankly a big ol’ win.
But also there’s that gubernatorial race.
Scandal-plagued Tate Reeves is likely to ride the state’s heavy GOP tilt and structural voting challenges that benefit his party to victory, but Brandon Presley has the race all shook up (...sorry) in a way Democrats haven’t seen in a hot minute.
First, Presley has outraised Reeves by more than $5 million.
Also, it’s worth noting that as of Oct. 26, Reeves was still outspending Presley on ads.
Second, not only do the scandals keep piling up for Reeves, most recently with revelations about fat state contracts he gave to his top campaign donors, but … could conservative voters have soured on him so much that they’ll just stay home?
And don’t forget – even if we know the results of the election on Tuesday, the race could still go to a runoff if neither candidate clears 50% of the vote.
Let’s be real — if a Democrat gets so close to winning that he forces a runoff, I’m pretty sure that will juice conservatives to show up for Reeves on Nov. 28, no matter how icky they find him.
And most of the rest of it:
There’s not much new going on in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court race, aside from the unsurprising fact that, with total spending looking to hit at least $20 million, it’ll probably be the most expensive judicial race the state has ever seen.
In Ohio, things are still looking pretty good for the passage of a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights (Issue 1), but we shouldn’t forget that weed is on the ballot there (Issue 2), too.
But first, a bit more on Issue 1, since it’ll determine whether women have the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies, and as great as weed is, I feel like reproductive rights are a little more important.
A while back, I wrote in this space about how, after Issue 1 made it to the ballot, the abortion rights opponents who control the Ohio Ballot Board decided to fuck around with the ballot language in the hopes of making the reproductive rights amendment less likely to pass.
Specifically, they replaced every instance of “fetus,” the medically accurate word for a fetus, with “unborn child,” a medically inaccurate and politically charged term for fetus.
And recent polling suggests the change had the impact abortion opponents were looking for … but probably not enough to actually tank Issue 1.
A recent Ohio Northern University survey found that, while voters are still more likely than not to support the reproductive rights amendment, its support margin narrows considerably when comparing the language that will be on voters’ ballots (“unborn child”) to the language of the amendment itself (fetus).
The same poll also found that 60% of respondents said they planned to vote Yes on Issue 1.
Other October polling has also indicated that Issue 1 will succeed (though maybe not at 60%).
Proponents of Issue 1 have been drastically outspending abortion opponents.
Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights was the top political ad spender on Google platforms from Oct. 22-28.
The organization has also spent heavily on political Snapchat ads.
They have the money to do it – OURR has reported raising $28 million in the most recent reporting period (beginning Aug. 9).
But back to Issue 2.
Legalizing recreational marijuana hasn’t drawn as much attention or money as enshrining reproductive rights in the state constitution, but it’s still likely to pass.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is backing Issue 2, reported raising nearly $1.2 million, while the anti-Issue 2 Protect Ohio Workers and Families reported raising just $342,900.
Fun fact! The last time marijuana legalization was on the ballot – 2015 – proponents spent more than $20 million trying to pass the measure.
The same poll that found that 58% of Ohioans plan to vote yes on Issue 1 also found that 57% plan to vote yes on Issue 2.
Another, more recent poll conducted by PPP found Ohioans supporting Issue 1 55%-38% and Issue 2 59%-39%.
And finally, a quick note on New Jersey.
I think it’s silly to expect either of these chambers to flip (House: 46 D/34 R; Senate: 25 D/15 R), but a couple of wrinkles could eat into Dems’ majorities.
First, does Menendez’s scandal trickle down to taint other Democrats this year? (Seriously, I’m asking – states with safe Dem majorities aren’t very interesting to me, so I collect less scuttlebutt.)
Second, this is the first cycle with new, higher campaign donation limits.
The Elections Transparency Act, which went into effect just this past summer, doubled limits on donations to candidates from individuals or businesses to $5,200 and doubled the caps on contributions from political action committees and other candidates, raising them to $16,400.
And the impact on how much money is being thrown around in these races is real.
Between June 24 and Oct. 24, candidates in the 3rd, 4th, 11th, 16th, and 38th districts received $1.02 million more in contributions than would have been allowed under the prior limits.
Thank you, as ever, for hanging in.
I hope your weekend is full of only good thoughts … or maybe no thoughts at all, you do you.
And take care of yourself.
We need you.