Off-year elections tend to be quiet affairs, and 2013 was no exception. With regular legislative elections scheduled in only New Jersey and Virginia, 2013 had the fewest number of state-level contests of the decade. (Louisiana and Mississippi are the only other states that maintain off-year state legislative elections but because both House and Senate members are elected to four-year terms, elections won’t be held there until 2015.)
And, the high profile races, such as the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia came out as predicted; Governor Chris Christie was re-elected in the Garden State by a wide margin, and Democrat Terry McCauliffe beat the Republican candidate in Virginia. Likewise, no legislative chambers changed hands. Post-election party composition information for all legislative chambers is available now.
In addition to candidate races, voters in six states weighed in on statewide ballot measures in 2013: Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Washington. Of the 31 total ballot measures, 27 were approved by voters. For more on ballot measures results, see below.
*Both the New York Senate and the Washington Senate are led by majority coalitions. Republicans maintain leadership control in these chambers despite a clear majority of democratic seats.
Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia held scheduled legislative elections on Nov. 5, the fewest number of state-level contests of this decade. Louisiana and Mississippi are the only other states that conduct off-year state legislative elections but they elect lawmakers in both houses to four-year terms, so the next elections there will be in 2015.
In New Jersey, all 120 House and Senate seats were up for grabs along with the governor’s office but no big political surprises upset the balance of power in the Garden State. Democrats held on to their safe majorities in both chambers. Although Republican Governor Chris Christie’s popularity led him to a crushing victory over Democratic Senator Barbara Buono, his bipartisan appeal did little to help his fellow Republicans down ticket. After the last ballots were counted, Democrats continued to maintain a 24-16 majority in the Senate and 48-32 majority in the Assembly.
In Virginia, only the 100 seats in the House of Delegates were up for election, and the results did nothing to upset the status quo. Republicans added two seats to their already comfortable majority and now maintain a 34-seat advantage in the chamber.
There were no seats up in the Senate of Virginia this year but the results of the commonwealth’s statewide offices could potentially alter the current 20-20 tie in the chamber. The Senate is currently under Republican control since the state’s Republican lieutenant governor casts the tie- breaking vote. Democratic Senator Ralph Northam resoundingly defeated Republican E.W. Jackson to become Virginia’s new lieutenant governor. However, Senator Northam will have to vacate his current Senate seat prior to assuming his new office this coming January. To fill the seat, Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe will have to hold a special election to fill the vacancy sometime next year.
Republican Senator Mark Obenshain and Democratic Senator Mark Herring also faced off in a hotly contested race for attorney general that turned out to be a nail biter throughout the evening. This race will also affect the party composition of the Virginia Senate. The race is still a virtual tie with Obenshain maintaining a 286-vote lead over Herring with a total 2.2 million votes cast. Virginia allows candidates to request a recount if the margin of victory is less than 1 percent. Whoever wins that race will also have to vacate their current Senate seat before taking office. With the Senate tied at a 20-20 split this will offer both parties two opportunities to win a clear majority in the chamber.
There were also 16 special elections in eight other states to fill vacated seats. The one that received the most attention was Washington’s 26th Senate district where Democratic Senator Nathan Schlicher ran against three-term Representative Jan Angel (R). Senator Schlicher was appointed to the seat when Derek Kilmer, the previous incumbent, won election to Congress. Washington is one of only three states that conduct elections entirely by mail so the final results may not be official until Friday. Representative Angel is currently ahead but only by 750 votes, so the race is still too close to call. Whoever wins the contest will serve out the remainder of the term. The Washington Senate is currently controlled by a majority coalition made up of 23 Republicans and two Democrats. This is one of the most competitive districts in the state, and this race was the most expensive in the state’s legislative history. It could decide who will control the chamber following the 2014 midterm elections.
For historical information on legislative races, see StateVote. For more information about party composition or this year’s legislative races, contact Morgan Cullen at 303-364-7700.
Statewide Ballot Measures
On Nov. 5, citizens in six states—Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Washington—voted on a total of 31 statewide ballot measures. That number is on par with other odd-year general elections. What was not "on par" was the number of Yes votes. Twenty-seven of the 31 measures passed this year. These included Colorado’s proposal for taxing retail marijuana, Proposition AA. In 2012, Colorado’s citizens voted to legalize marijuana. This year, they voted to tax it to help pay for school construction and to regulate marijuana shops.
Of all the ballot measures, just three were citizen initiatives, fewer than usual. Citizen initiatives are measures that are initiated and pushed toward the ballot by individuals or groups; 24 states provide this avenue. From 2001 through 2011, the number of citizen initiatives in odd years has varied between two and 17. (For more on the procedural aspects of ballot measures, see NCSL’s Initiative and Referendum Overview.)
Of the citizen initiatives, all three were voted down: Colorado’s Amendment 66, a $950 million tax increase through a new funding formula for preK -12 schooling, and two in Washington. Initiative 517 would have made it easier to gather signatures to put citizen initiatives on the ballot and Initiative 522 would have required labeling for products containing genetically modified organisms or “GMOs.”
Other votes of interest:
- New Jersey voters set an indexed minimum wage in the Constitution (Public Question 2).
- New Yorkers approved authorization for up to seven casinos (Proposal 1) but turned down an increase in the retirement age for judges (Proposal 6).
- Texans approved creating a State Water Implementation Fund to help finance water projects in their arid state (Proposition 6).
- And the voters in Maine said yes to five bond measures on the ballot, focused on infrastructure and higher ed construction.
For information about all of 2013’s statewide ballot measures, see NCSL’s database of ballot measures or contact Wendy Underhill at 303-364-7700.
Wendy Underhill covers election administration and policy for NCSL. Morgan Cullen is NCSL's expert on redistricting, legislative races and legislator demographics.