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2015 State Legislative Vacancy Report

2015 was a turbulent year for state legislatures in the US. It is not unheard of for legislators to step down mid-term, however the past year saw a whopping 88 seats vacated by State Senators and Representatives. When an elected official steps down before their term is over, the seat is either filled by an appointment or a special election. Twenty-three states appoint successors, either through the Governor’s office, or by the party last occupying the seat. A slightly greater number of states hold special elections to fill empty seats. In this case, a district’s constituents are without representation until the newly elected official takes office, which is often months after the seat was first vacated.

Why all the Change?

A legislator may choose to leave their post for various reasons. In 2015, the top reason for open seats was due to an official being appointed or elected to an alternate position. For example, a A graph showing Reasons for open US State Legislative Seats in 2015Governor or Mayor may call on a State Senator to leave the legislature to serve in their cabinet. This appointment may then set off a series of special elections, as it is common for a State Representative to run for that open State Senate position (typically referred to as a “promotion” to a higher legislature). Similarly, a legislator may leave their seat to run in another election. This happened in February in Texas SD-26 when Senator Leticia Van de Putte left her seat to run for mayor of San Antonio. Jose Menendez, an incumbent in Texas HD-124 won that election, setting off yet another special election for his newly vacant house seat.

The second most popular reason for an elected official retiring in 2015 was to accept a job in the private sector. Some state legislatures are considered “part-time” and many officials carry additional jobs. New Hampshire’s Rockingham 20 House District Representative Dennis B. Sweeney held a zero percent voting record four months into his 2015 term. He ultimately stepped down because his work schedule prevented him from attending sessions.

Repeat Offenders

So, which states had the most special elections in 2015? 2 or 3 elections might be typical for a state in any given year, but in 2015 Georgia held a monumental 12 special elections–a recent all time high. That is the more than any state going back to 2011. Interestingly, Georgia was the winner that year as well, with 11 polls for vacated positions. Coming up second this year was Pennsylvania, with 8 special elections, 6 of which occurred in the second half of the year.

A horizontal bar chart showing States with the Most Special Elections in 2015. Georgia has the highest number, followed by Pennsylvania and New York.


88 vacant seats may seem like a lot. But how does it compare to years past? In the previous 4 years, 2011 was the only year to exceed 2015 in terms of vacant seats up for special election, with a grand total of 94. This actually makes sense. In 4 year election cycles, the year before a Presidential election (in which many other states also hold state elections) typically sees a lot of activity. A graphic showing the number of state legislative vacancies in 2015 compared to other years going back to 2011. 2011 had the highest number of vacancies, with 94.This is due in part to legislators resigning seats to run for different, open ones. The previous years, (2010 and 2014) also saw mid-term elections during which new administrations may have taken office and appointed Senators and Representatives to cabinet positions. If appointments take time, the open seats they create may not be reflected until the following year.

2013 also saw a high number of vacant seats filled with special elections, with a total of 84. Because odd years see very few state elections, Special Elections must be called, rather than an even-year option of waiting until the next scheduled general election. Many state laws specify that if a seat becomes vacant within a few months of a scheduled, general election, the seat will wait to be filled at that time. This unfortunately leaves a district without representation, but it does save the state a significant amount of money. Special elections often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and see very low turnout from the electorate.

Moving Forward

Wondering if 2016 will be more of the same? Heading into the second month of the year, 34 state legislative seats are already open. 20 special elections have been scheduled, and 3 remain unscheduled at this time. At least 6 more open seats are awaiting appointment. And you can probably bet there will be more.

The Cicero database keeps track of Special Elections for all 50 states in the US, at the National, State, and even local levels for our largest cities. If you’re interested in learning more, give us a shout via email ( or Twitter (@CiceroAPI). We’d love to talk elections with you!


Editing Your Address Detail Page in the Nonprofit Starter Pack

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Cicero Salesforce Nonprofit

Cicero’s integration with the Salesforce Nonprofit Starter Pack last November allowed users to verify their addresses and match them to legislative districts. This tool has been extremely helpful for many nonprofits who want to improve their postage automation rate ahead of a large mailing, or match their constituents to legislative districts in order to advance an advocacy campaign.

cicero hearts Salesforce


While Cicero will append Congressional, State Upper, and State Lower legislative districts to address records, your organization may not have a use for all three. Below, we will walk you through the steps of editing your address layout page so you can get exactly what you need out of the Cicero integration:

1) After logging in to your Nonprofit Starter Pack account, navigate to “Setup” at the top of the screen

2) On the left hand side scroll down to “Create” (under the Build Heading) and then choose “Objects” in the menu underneath

3) Select the label titled “Address”

A snapshot of the Custom Objects page in the Nonprofit Starter Pack

4) Scroll down to “Page Layouts” or use the shortcut at the top

5) Click “Edit” on the Page Layout you’d like to modify

A snapshot of how to find and edit your custom page layouts in the Nonprofit Starter Pack

6) Using the Address Layout Widget at the top, you can choose to add or remove the Congressional District, State Upper District, or State Lower District fields from your Address Detail page

A snapshot of the Address Layout Widget in the Nonprofit Starter Pack

If you’d like to add a field, simply drag and drop into your Address Detail. To remove a field, mouse over it in the Address Detail example and click the “remove” button.

A snapshot of the Address Detail editor in the Nonprofit Starter Pack

Warning! Be careful not to remove other fields that are essential to the address itself, such as Mailing Street, City, State, Zip, and Country. Turning on Address Verification with Cicero also automatically appends a “Verified” field to your detail page. You’ll want to leave that there to indicate whether or not a new address has been verified.

7) Once you’ve added or removed your desired Legislative District fields, you can change their location on the Address Detail page just by clicking and dragging

A snapshot of how to click and drag to rearrange your address detail page in the Nonprofit Starter Pack

8) When you’re done, either choose to preview your new Address Detail page at the top, or click Save

It’s that easy! And you shouldn’t feel bad about adding or removing legislative districts, because regardless of how many districts you match to an address, it still only costs one credit. Cicero offers a 10% discount on all credit purchases for nonprofits, and our partnership with Techsoup allows 5,000 credits for a small $30 donation. Have questions about pricing? Drop us a line or tweet us @CiceroAPI. We’re happy to help!


Free Cicero Credits During #Dreamforce!

In honor of Dreamforce 2015, Cicero is granting twice the free API credits to all who sign up between September 15th and 22nd. The Cicero API matches addresses to legislative districts, and returns comprehensive elected official information, including district offices and social media identifiers. As a developer, use the API  to fuel the next great Salesforce App! Not a developer? Cicero is already integrated with the Nonprofit Starter Pack, for easily matching your household addresses to legislative districts. 

During Dreamforce, we want to encourage everyone to test out Cicero with 2,000 free credits! To sign up, simply visit our free trial page. You will instantly get 1,000 credits, which is good for 90 days. As a tribute to Dreamforce, we’ll add 1,000 more, and extend your trial an additional 3 months. That’s 2,000 credits in total, good for 6 months (trust us, we did the math).

Have questions? Drop us a line or tweet us; we’ll be happy to help. Happy Dreamforce!


cicero hearts Salesforce


Adding State Districts to Your Salesforce Nonprofit Account

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Cicero Salesforce Nonprofit

Cicero’s integration with the Salesforce Nonprofit Starter Pack has been expanded to include State Upper and Lower Districts. Back in November, we announced the ability to verify household addresses with Cicero and match them to Congressional districts. Now, it is possible to add state legislative districts as well!


How Does it Work?

The Nonprofit Starter Pack uses the Cicero API to geocode addresses associated with Household records. It then matches the address to Congressional, State Upper, and State Lower districts, and appends them to the address record. In addition, it updates the record with the Cass-certified standardization, meaning your addresses get verified in the process!

If you haven’t yet used Cicero with Salesforce, you can follow the steps outlined here to get started. Now, instead of only seeing Congressional Districts appended to your household address, State Upper and Lower Districts will be populated as well! Important note: Before starting, make sure you are running version 3.43 of the NPSP or higher. Versions below 3.43 will not support this function.

If you are already utilizing the Cicero integration with the Nonprofit Starter Pack, and you have not upgraded to 3.43, you can manually add the districts to your address detail. Here’s how:


1) First, edit your address page layout to include State Upper and State Lower:

NPSP Address Layout 2


2) Next, add the new fields to your profile:

Profile Address Object 2A


3) You’re done!

NPSP Address Detail Page 2A

Cicero hearts Nonprofits

We offer excellent discounts to nonprofits wishing to use Cicero. Through our partnership with TechSoup, all nonprofits are eligible for 5,000 credits (that’s good for 5,000 addresses matched to legislative districts) for only $30. We also offer a 10% discount overall to any organization qualifying as a nonprofit, Government, or educational institution.

Need more reasons to sign up? Drop us a line or tweet us; we’ll be happy to help. And don’t forget to tune in to the next post in this series, which will cover tips on customizing your Address Layout in the NPSP.


The Struggle for Power in Civic Tech: Highlights from #PDF15

Among the numerous talks at this year’s Personal Democracy Forum, one word that stood out was “Power” (not the kind that is currently keeping your computer on). Power, in Civic Tech, was discussed as both an impediment to achievement, as well as a by-product of having the right tools at your disposal. Below, several compelling perspectives:

Picture of the stage at Personal Democracy Forum 2015

Let’s Talk About Power

Eric Liu’s excellent first-day talk framed this discussion, defining Power, simply, as “a capacity to have others do what you would like them to do.” Civic Power, therefore, is that capacity “as applied to the common good” or the many. This leads to the core question of civic Power, which is, for the many, “who decides?” Eric thinks we should strive to Democratize our understanding of how Power works, and be responsible with the pile of tools, skills, and ideas we have in our possession. This is especially important in Civic Tech, where we have the opportunity to design tools for the public good, and often, to choose how they are used and distributed.


Knowledge is Power

Both Harold Feld and Dave Troy gave incredible presentations about the internet and social media as public utilities, although approached from two very different angles. Harold discussed Verizon’s attempts not to rebuild on Fire Island after Hurricane Sandy. He argued that the internet’s powers to offer open communication are as crucial as any other public utility, and it should be made available and affordable to all.

A People Map of the City of St. Louis showing various twitter users interests who live in St. Louis

People Map of St. Louis, via, created by Dave Troy

Dave Troy, a social media cartographer, presented a new project called He used Twitter to create a people map of St. Louis (including Ferguson) that shed light on the segregations in that community in a much more meaningful way than geographic maps alone. Dave used to do this with Facebook, which unfortunately no longer allows access to the API. Many other sites do the same. Even Twitter allows itself to be censored in other countries. These tools also are public utilities, Dave pointed out, and blocking access to them is a direct attack on knowledge.

Tools are Power

Many PDF speakers agreed that having the right tools impacted Power. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (pictured right), Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers Presenting on stage at PDFCongressional Chair of the House Republican Conference, gave an honest speech about her efforts to integrate Congress with the technology of the future. “Policy makers should be innovators,” she said, but instead, “Congress is more like the DMV than Uber.” She also summarized a recent trip to Ukraine in which the Mayor of Kiev stated, “media is more powerful than bullets” when it comes to revolution.

Danny O’Brien highlighted the successes of the movement to stop mass surveillance with the Patriot Act, but asked “Did we win because we were right, or because we had cool tools?” He ended with this message: “Tools need to be used to distribute Power, not aggregate it.”


Control is Power

Dante Barry’s passionate speech about the Black Lives Matter movement recognized the extraordinary collaboration that has resulted from the open internet. This Powerful platform has led to a Powerful movement, but he warned, “The internet is only as good as the people who control it.” In an age where phones have become defense mechanisms, rules that keep our content in our hands are critical.


Politics is Power

Speaking over Skype, Birgitta Jonsdottir (pictured below), Leader of the Pirate Party in Iceland, detailed her efforts Birgitta Jonsdottir speaking over Skype at the PDF Conferenceto affect change in her country, which ultimately led to a new political party being formed. “People are always telling us we don’t have the power to change. It’s a lie,” she said. Political movements should not be triangular, but rather a circle of shared Power. “If you don’t become the power, the power can’t control you.”

During a breakout session on Designing the Digital Legislature, New York City Councilmember Ben Kallos also agreed that politics is often the road to Power: “You can have the best ideas in the world, but you still need someone in government to pass the law.” This sentiment was echoed by Santiago Siri, in his creation of the Net Party in Argentina. This is also a theme well understood here at Team Cicero. Our database of legislative districts and elected officials is often used by organizations to advance an advocacy campaign through direct contact from constituents to their legislators.


Power to the People

Jess Kutch’s talk on proved what people can do when they have the right tools and skills available to them. In a triumph for Starbucks Baristas, a social media campaign was launched by one woman in an effort to change the corporate tattoo policy. What resulted was not only a win for tattoos, but also a blueprint for how the internet can fuel a movement.

With so many different channels, where does Power come from in Civic Tech? It does not flow solely from knowledge, or tools, or control, or politics. As Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry (organizers and founders of PDF) seemed to know when choosing this year’s theme, it is comes from the people. And as people working within Civic Tech, we should use that power consciously.