Important Elections in the First Half of 2023
Elections & Politics Policy Brief #50 | By: Ian Milden | January 17, 2023
Header photo taken from: RFCP (.org)
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While the start of the presidential race tends to get most of the election coverage around this time of year, there are a couple of important elections in the early months of 2023. This brief will discuss two of these races and why they matter.
Photo taken from: NBC12 (.com)
Virginia’s 4th Congressional District
After Congressman Donald McEachin (D-VA) passed away on November 29th, a special election was ordered to fill the vacancy in Virginia’s 4th congressional district. The special election will be held on February 21st. Democrats nominated state senator Jennifer McClellan. The Republicans nominated Leon Benjamin. Benjamin was the Republican nominee who lost to McEachin in 2020 and 2022. Early voting has already started and will go on until February 18th.
Virginia’s 4th Congressional district is based around Richmond. McEachin won over 60% of the vote in 2022, so this is a district that Democrats should be heavily favored to win. Special elections tend to feature low voter turnout rates, so margins can vary wildly based on who shows up to vote. The margins in special elections can provide indications of what voters might do in upcoming elections. For example, Democrats started to overperform expectations in special elections in 2022 after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade, which foreshadowed Democrats performing relatively well in the 2022 mid-term elections.
If Democrats retain the seat in Virginia’s 4th district, it won’t give them the House majority, but it will provide Democrats with a little more leverage in negotiations by giving Republicans a smaller margin for error on party-line votes. Having this seat filled by a Democratic incumbent will also be one less seat for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to worry about in 2024. Democrats should hold this seat, but sometimes crazy things happen in special elections.
Photo taken from: PBS Wisconsin
Wisconsin Supreme Court
Wisconsin voters will also get to vote on February 21st. Instead of voting for members of Congress, they will get to vote for state judicial officials. This includes filling an open seat on the state supreme court.
Justice Patience Roggensack has decided to retire after serving two ten-year terms. Roggensack was part of a four-member conservative majority on the court. Since the court has seven seats, the newly elected Justice will determine the ideological balance of the court. The term of Justice Roggensack expires at the end of July.
Four candidates are running for state Supreme Court Justice. The top two finishers in the non-partisan election on February 21st will advance to the general election on April 4th. The four candidates are former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, and Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell. Kelly and Dorow are campaigning as conservatives. Judge Protasiewicz and Judge Mitchell are expected to join the progressive justices on the court if they are elected.
The state Supreme Court would have the ability to rule on legal disputes related to the elections in Wisconsin. This includes Gerrymandering cases, which have a significant impact on the partisan distribution of seats in the U.S. House and the state legislature. The state Supreme Court also can rule on state policy decisions that are challenged in court. This authority can lead to major changes in public policy. Areas of public policy they can rule on include (but are not limited to) abortion, labor, and public health.
The state Supreme Court has the power to resolve disputes between the Governor and the state legislature. Given the conservative majority on the court, most of these disputes have been resolved in favor of the Republican-controlled state legislature rather than the Democratic Governor.
For example, the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against Governor Tony Evers’ emergency orders related to the Covid-19 pandemic. This significantly limited the governor’s authority to make public health rules to combat the pandemic. If Judge Protasiewicz or Judge Mitchell is elected, the state Supreme Court would likely reach a different verdict in similar cases in the future.
Unlike the special election in Virginia, I don’t have an indication of who is likely to win. It will be a low-turnout election due to the timing of the election and the offices on the ballot. While the race is technically non-partisan, political party organizations in the state get involved in turning out voters for their preferred candidates. This race is worth keeping an eye on because it would have implications for any legal disputes about upcoming elections in the state.
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