The Importance of State Legislative Elections
From California to New York, national campaigns and governor’s races are receiving the majority of the attention in the press, while state legislative races virtually go unreported. However, both major parties are very engaged in state legislative elections because of the large impact they have on redistricting. Redistricting is the process of redrawing state legislative and congressional district boundaries every 10 years by state legislatures following the decennial U.S. Census. The party controlling their respective state legislatures controls the drawing of the maps, which can reshape the political landscape for the following 10 years. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) of the 50 state legislatures, 27 are controlled by the Democrats, 14 are controlled by the Republicans, and 8 are divided between the two parties; 1 legislature (Nebraska) is nonpartisan.
Let’s look at one state in particular to illustrate how state legislative elections could have a major impact in Congress. In Ohio, Democrats currently hold a 53-46 majority in the House, but according to recent polls that advantage could shift to Republicans after the November election. This could cost Democrats three or four House seats next time around. After gaining state legislative seats in the ‘04, ‘06 and ‘08 elections, Democrats are looking at a scenario where these gains could be swept away in one election and that particularly matters during redistricting.
This same scenario is being played out for Democrats in a number of states throughout the country such as Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; each will likely lose a congressional seat in redistricting. While the picture does not seem bright for Democrats in state legislative elections, they are optimistic of their chances in Texas where Republicans control a slim majority in both houses. In Montana, Republicans have a four seat advantage in the Senate while the House is equally divided and Democrats are somewhat optimistic of there chances in the Big Sky state.
So what’s the bottom line? Elections are equally important in national and state races but state legislative races may have a bigger impact on who your national elected officials will be for years to come.