StateVote: 2015 State Elections

Wendy Underhill, Dan Diorio and Kae Warnock 11/4/2015


StateVote LogoWhile most of the election-related news these days is about next year’s presidential race—or at least the primaries leading up to it—citizens in 10 states voted on legislators, governors or statewide ballot measures this fall. Legislative seats were up in four states—Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. Governors races were held in just three states— Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.  As for statewide ballot measures, voters in seven states addressed a total of 26 policy-related questions.

See NCSL’s blog for commentary on these races, or read below for post-election analysis on legislative races (with a map of partisan control) and analysis of ballot measures.

Post-election Analysis of Legislative Races

Voters in Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia headed to the polls to decide on their state legislators, and in Kentucky and Mississippi, who their governor would be.

The big news on the legislative front: The status quo was maintained. The map of partisan control did not change—30 states have both chambers controlled by Republicans, 11 states have both chambers in the hands of Democrats, and eight states have divided legislatures. Nebraska is unicameral.

2015 Post legislative election map

Let’s start with the Virginia Senate, a 40-member chamber that has switched control three times in the past three years. Before Election Day, Republicans controlled 21 seats to 19 seats for the Democrats. What that meant was that Democrats only needed to pick up one seat to regain control of the chamber, since Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam would be the tie-breaking vote. They were not able to do that—the numbers did not change. Republicans will keep control of the Senate in the Old Dominion state with the same 21-19 majority.

In the Virginia House of Delegates, Republicans held a 67-33 majority in the 100-member chamber prior to Election Day and that didn’t change much. Despite losing one seat—a loss in open contests in Districts 86 and 87 negated a pickup in District 2—the GOP will maintain its dominance in the House of Delegates by a 66-34 margin..

Republicans increased their lead in the Mississippi House of Representatives, knocking off minority leader Bobby Moak in the process but fell one seat short of the 74 needed to gain a supermajority. Republicans also maintained control of the Mississippi Senate with a 31-19 majority with two seats undecided, not far off from their pre-Election Day control of 32-20.

Democrats increased their majority in the New Jersey Assembly by three to control the chamber 51-29. The Garden State has multimember districts where voters select two candidates to represent them in the Assembly. Democrats took over both seats in the formerly split District 1 and took out two GOP incumbents in District 11.

In the gubernatorial races, the GOP continued its dominance in the South and flipped the governorship in Kentucky to their column as Republican Matt Bevin defeated Democrat Jack Conway to replace term-limited Governor Steve Beshear (D). Republicans currently control the Senate, while Democrats have the majority in the House in the Bluegrass State, so divided government will continue.

In Mississippi incumbent, Governor Phil Bryant (R) easily won re-election over truck driver Robert Gray.

Here is preliminary partisan composition data, as of Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. MT. (A few races are still pending)

Louisiana held its unique Cajun Primary on Oct. 24, in which candidates from all parties run on the same ticket. For seats where a candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, that October vote was final. For four Senate seats and 14 House seats, runoff elections between the top two vote-getters will be held on Nov. 21. Louisiana’s governor’s race was on that October ballot. The top two candidates face off in the Nov. 21 runoff.

For more analysis see Legislative partisan control unchanged by Tuesday's elections on the NCSL Blog. 

Election Night Results - Ballot Measures

This fall voters in seven states addressed a total of 26 statewide ballot measures. This is a smaller number than usual, even for an odd-year election. Next year, in 2016, the nation may face 150 or more measures. This year’s slim crop covered a surprisingly wide range of issues, including education, marijuana, transportation, redistricting, taxes and much more. Preliminary results for all these measures are:

While some of these measures are of local interest only, others may have influence outside the state borders:

  • Does Ohio’s “no” vote on recreational marijuana (Issue 3) mean that the movement toward more legalization is over? Already Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington have made adult use of marijuana legal through the ballot box. This was the next test—and Ohioans trounced the measure, with a 36 to 64 vote.  And yet, it may mean nothing about what will happen in other states because of the way the measure was designed. It identified 10 commercial operators, causing a backlash. The monopoly nature of the proposition led the legislature to put a separate measure on the ballot to prohibit the citizen’s initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit. That measure, Issue 2, received a thumbs up, with 52 percent of the vote.
  • Will Washington’s yes vote on Initiative 1401 to restrict trade in certain endangered species and products made from them lead to similar measures elsewhere? Perhaps. Washington has often been a bellwether state on citizen-backed initiatives, and the primary financial backer for the measure, Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, could decide to continue his work by supporting measures in other states.
  • Washington voters also approved Initiative 1366, which may put the legislature between a rock and a hard place when it comes to taxes—and may provide momentum to anti-tax efforts in other states. The measure says that the sales tax rate will decrease by a penny (from the current 6.5 cents on the dollar) unless the Legislature sends the voters a constitutional amendment that would require any tax increase to either get a two-thirds vote in the Legislature or be approved by the voters.
  • Is there a trend toward bipartisan redistricting commissions? With New York voters saying yes to one in 2014, and Ohio voters saying yes this year to Issue 1, which creates a commission and establishes new criteria as well, we have two data points—hardly enough to establish a trend.
  • Maine’s voters also supported a political measure, Question One, which increased the pool of state money available for the public financing of political campaigns through its Clean Elections Fund. Will other states follow suit? Probably not. Public financing as a campaign finance mechanism is largely dormant at this point, with only two other states, Arizona and Connecticut, having similar programs.

Below are the preliminary results for Nov. 3’s 22 statewide ballot measures, plus the four ballot measures decided in Louisiana two weeks earlier. These are preliminary results. Election officials must certify results for them to be considered official:

  • Colorado Proposition BB: Retain Revenue in Excess of Blue Book Estimate (Passed 67 percent)
  • Louisiana Amendment 1: Rename the Budget Stabilization Fund (Failed 47.5 percent)
  • Louisiana Amendment 2: State Infrastructure Bank (Passed 52.9 percent)
  • Louisiana Amendment 3: Fiscal Legislative Session Legislation (Failed 45.7 percent)
  • Louisiana Amendment 4: Property Tax Exemption (Passed 51.4 percent)
  • Maine Question 1: An Act to Strengthen the Maine Clean Election Act, Improve Disclosure and Make Other Changes to the Campaign Finance Laws (Passed 55 percent)
  • Maine Question 2: An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Support the Independence of Maine’s Seniors (Passed 69.2 percent)
  • Maine Question 3: An Act to Authorize Two General Fund Bond Issues to Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities (Passed 72.6 percent)
  • Mississippi Initiative 42: Public school funding (Failed 48 percent)
  • Mississippi Alternative Measure 42A: Public school funding alternative (Passed 59 percent)
  • Ohio Issue 1: Create a bipartisan, public process for drawing legislative districts (Passed 71 percent)
  • Ohio Issue 2: Anti-monopoly amendment; protects the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit (Passed 52 percent)
  • Ohio Issue 3: Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes (Failed 36 percent)
  • Texas Proposition 1: Homestead exemption for elderly and disabled (Passed 86 percent)
  • Texas Proposition 2: Homestead exemption for spouse of disabled veteran (Passed 92 percent)
  • Texas Proposition 3: Repeals residency requirement for elected state officials (Passed 67 percent)
  • Texas Proposition 4: Authorizes the legislature to permit professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles (Passed 69 percent)
  • Texas Proposition 5: Authorizes private road work by counties under certain situations (Passed 83 percent)
  • Texas Proposition 6: Constitutional amendment relating to the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. (Passed 82 percent)
  • Texas Proposition 7: Constitutional amendment dedicating revenues to the state highway fund. (Passed 83 percent)
  • Washington Initiative 1366: Constitutional amendment to reduces state sales tax unless the legislature sends a separate measure to the voters that would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature for any tax or fee increases (Passed 54 percent)
  • Washington Initiative 1401: Criminalizes trade in endangered species products (Passed 71 percent)
  • Washington Advisory Vote 10: Oil Transportation Safety (51 percent advise to repeal)
  • Washington Advisory Vote 11: Cannabis Patient Protection Act (42 percent advise to maintain)
  • Washington Advisory Vote 12: Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax Rates (67 percent advise to repeal)
  • Washington Advisory Vote 13: Tax Preferences for Royalties (65 percent advise to repeal)

For more analysis see Voters Give Thumbs Up to Most Ballot Measures on the NCSL Blog.

Pre-election Analysis of Legislative Elections

Voters in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia will cast ballots this November—or October and November in the case of Louisiana—to decide control of their legislatures and pick governors.

The Virginia Senate is one of the most closely divided chambers in the nation, with Republicans holding 21 seats to 19 Democratic seats. It is the one chamber in contention this year where control may change, as it has three times in the last three years.

Louisiana has all 144 members of both legislative chambers up for re-election. (Check out NCSL's Blog Cajun Primary Kicks Off Election Season.) While Republicans are expected to maintain their 26-13 majority in the Senate and their 59-44-2 majority in the House, the governor’s race has been one to watch. In Mississippi all 174 members of the legislature are up for re-election—Republicans hold both chambers (32-20 in the Senate and 66-56 in the House) and should maintain their majorities. Governor Phil Bryant (R) is up for re-election this year and facing off against Democrat Robert Gray, a truck driver who won a surprising victory in the primary, and Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara.

New Jersey stands alone in that only one legislative chamber is up for re-election this year. Each of the 80 seats in the Garden State’s General Assembly are up. Democrats hold the majority there by a wide margin, 48-32, and are expected to continue to do so.

For more election analysis see Five States Holding Critical Elections on the NCSL blog.

Map showing 2015 pre-election party control of state legislatures

Current legislative partisan composition data

For historical information on legislative races, see NCSL's partisan composition page.


Pre-election Analysis of Ballot Measures

In 2015, voters in seven states will decide 26 statewide ballot measures, a low number even for an odd-year election. The topics addressed by voters are similar to recent years: legislative processes, education, marijuana, animal rights, transportation and more. 

Legislative Processes: Ohioans will vote on Issue 1, which calls for a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw the lines for legislative districts during the 2020 cycle, instead of the General Assembly holding this responsibility. Texans will vote on Proposition 3, which would repeal the constitutional requirement that elected state officers must live in the capital city, Austin. And Louisianans will vote on Amendment 4, which would allow the Legislature to address a broader array of proposals during its fiscal sessions.

Education: Mississippi has two competing statewide education measures. At issue is the constitutional language requiring the state to provide free public schools—a requirement found in all state constitutions. Both proposals would strengthen the existing language, albeit to varying degrees.

The first, Initiative 42, placed on the ballot by the citizens’ initiative process, asks, “Should the state be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?” (Italics added for emphasis.) The second, Alternative Measure 42A, placed on the ballot by the Legislature in response to the first, asks, “Shall the Legislature be required to provide for the establishment and support of an effective system of free public schools?” If the citizen-initiated measure wins the day, school funding may be in the hands of the courts.

Marijuana: Ohio’s Issue 3 would permit the use of recreational marijuana, the only such measure this year. It does so with a proposal that limits the number of growers. The title uses the word “monopoly.” Because of that monopoly option, voters will also vote on Issue 3, which would prohibit initiatives from being used “for personal economic benefit.” (Colorado’s Proposition BB, uses the word, marijuana, three times but is not about marijuana per se. Colorado voters approved the use of recreational marijuana in 2012; this question addresses the taxes associated with marijuana sales and whether they can be used for schools construction, marijuana education and other projects.)

Animal Rights/Hunting: Washington’s Initiative 1401 would make selling, purchasing, trading or distributing products made with or from certain endangered species illegal. In Texas, Proposition 6 would add the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife to the state constitution, and designate hunting and fishing as preferred methods for managing wildlife.

Taxes: Washington’s Initiative 1366, if passed, would put the Legislature between a rock and a hard place if it wants to raise taxes. If the measure gets a thumbs up, the sales tax rate would decrease by a penny (from the current 6.5 cents on the dollar)—unless the Legislature sends the voters a constitutional amendment that would require any tax increase to either get a two-thirds vote in the Legislature or voter approval. This is a variation on a tax-limiting theme that dates back a half-dozen years. Texas and Louisiana are addressing taxes for transportation as well.

Here are all the measures:

Wendy Underhill covers election issues for NCSL. Dan Diorio is the editor of NCSL's election newsletter The Canvass. Kae Warnock tracks legislative partisan composition.

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