Important Elections in the First Half of 2023: Municipal Elections

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #65 | By: Ian Milden | March 20, 2023

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Policy Summary

In this brief, I discuss the importance of municipal elections in public policy. Specifically, I focus on the election for mayor of Chicago, where the two candidates have significantly divergent ideas on how to improve public safety. I also provide some updates on elections I discussed in a previous brief.

election for mayor of Chicago, where the two candidates have significantly divergent ideas on how to improve public safety

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Chicago Tribune/Armando L. Sanchez/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Policy Analysis

While the year before a Presidential election doesn’t often feature major federal elections, many local offices are up for election this year. Municipal officeholders have the power to shape policy on issues such as transportation, infrastructure, housing, public safety, and other government services. Some of the cities that are holding municipal elections in 2023 include Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, Charlotte, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Columbus, Memphis, Nashville, Dallas, San Antonio, and Salt Lake City. The race for Mayor of Chicago is an example of a race where the winner could significantly reshape policy on public safety.

Chicago held municipal primaries on February 28th. In the primary, incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot was not successful in advancing to the general election. Instead, the non-partisan runoff on April 4th will be contested by former Chicago Public Schools superintendent Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. Nearly half of the voters who participated in the primary voted for a candidate who did not make the general election, so this race is wide open.

Vallas and Johnson have significant differences in their policy views on the police department and public safety. Vallas has campaigned for funding to hire hundreds of additional police officers, as well as investments in new facilities for the police department such as a forensic lab. This position has won him the endorsement of the city’s police union. Vallas has made these positions the central focus of his campaign.

Brandon Johnson’s position on reducing crime is different. Johnson’s campaign argues that investments in social services and other core needs like affordable housing and mental health services will help reduce crime by addressing the root causes of crime. Johnson’s campaign argues that his approach should be tried since previous increases in crime rates have been responded to by hiring additional police officers, and that has not worked well for many neighborhoods.

While the policy positions of the candidates are important, voter perceptions of the candidates may affect the outcome as well. Johnson has attacked Vallas as too conservative for Chicago, while Vallas’ campaign is trying to depict Johnson as someone who holds views that are consistent with socialism.

Regardless of who wins the election, the new mayor will have to convince the city council to approve their policy proposals. If you want to know if your municipality is holding elections for local offices, check the websites of your state or municipal board of elections. In jurisdictions where the filing deadline has passed for candidates, a sample ballot should be available.

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An Update on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court Race

Janet Protasiewicz and Dan Kelly advanced to the April 4th general election for the open seat on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Judge Protasiewicz received the most votes. Overall, the liberal leaning justices had 54% of the vote, which is a positive sign for Judge Protasiewicz’s chances. An analysis of Washington State’s top two election system found that the partisan vote distribution in the primary closely mirrored the results of the general election when the general election featured a Democrat and a Republican. While the trends from the analysis of Washington State’s election are a positive sign for Wisconsin Democrats, they may not hold due to the unusual timing of the election and lower voter turnout rates for elections that occur at unusual times.

Updates on Congressional Special Elections

Jennifer McClellan was elected to fill the vacancy in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. McClellan got a higher percentage of votes, 74.29%, than recent Democratic performances in the district. While McClellan’s election fills the last vacancy in the House of Representatives, a new vacancy is expected this summer because Rep David Cicilline of Rhode Island announced plans to resign on June 1st to take a job at a non-profit organization. Cicilline’s district is a strongly Democratic district, so Democrats should expect to retain the seat. Governor Dan McKee (D-RI) will not be able to set a date for the special election until after Cicilline leaves office. A special election will likely occur in the late summer or early fall.

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