StateVote: 2017 Elections

11/8/2017

Overview

StateVote 2017 logo

New Jersey and Virginia held regularly scheduled legislative elections and statewide office elections on Tuesday, November 7, and Washington state had a series of special elections. All these helped shape the current state of partisan control in the states.

When considering state partisan control, there are three statistics to watch: the number of chambers held by each party, legislative control (representing the number of legislatures where both chambers are held by one party), and state control (a measure that adds the governor’s party to chamber). Nebraska doesn’t count in these states because it is unicameral, and its legislators are elected on a nonpartisan basis.

Here’s what’s stayed the same and what has changed:

Pre-election

  • Chamber control: Republicans held 67 and Democrats held 31 (for a total of 98 chambers)
  • Legislative control: Republicans held both chambers in 32 states, Democrats held both in 14 states, and three states had divided control (for a total of 49 states)
  • State control: Republicans held all seats of power in 24 states, Democrats held all power in seven, with 18 states under divided control (for a total of 49 states)

Post-election

  • Chamber control: NO CHANGE
  • Legislative control: NO CHANGE
  • State control: Republicans hold all seats of power in 24 states and Democrats held all pwoer in eight, with 17 states under divided control (for a total of 49 states)

For those tracking party control with a magnifying glass, NCSL credits Democrats with control of both New York chambers, although a Senate Democrat caucuses with the Republicans, giving the GOP functional control. The reverse is true in the Alaska House, where Rs hold numerical control but Ds have functional control because of a couple of caucus-changers. And in Connecticut, the lieutenant governor, a Democrat, casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate, giving the Ds functional control. Washington’s Senate is explained below.

And, see NCSL’s blog for up-to-take commentary on all issues effecting states, politically and otherwise.

  • Post-Election Analysis
  • Pre-Election Analysis

Legislative Races

Post-Election Legislature Control DC PR MP GU AS VI AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY
LEGEND:
  Republican
  Democrat
  Split
  Nonpartisan
  Not decided

Click on states with a black border for special elections.

 
Georgia
SENATE HOUSE
2 7
Maine
SENATE HOUSE
  1
Massachusetts
SENATE HOUSE
  2
Massachusetts
SENATE HOUSE
  2
Missouri
SENATE HOUSE
1 2
Mississippi
SENATE HOUSE
  2
New Hamshire
SENATE HOUSE
1 1
South Carolina
SENATE HOUSE
  1
Washington
SENATE HOUSE
5 3
 

Legislative Races

The big election news was that Democrats made a stronger-than-expected showing in the House of Delegates in Virginia, with the tally standing at the end of the night at 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats. A recount is likely in as many as three districts. In New Jersey, Democrats will continue to hold both legislative chambers, as was expected.

New Jersey and Virginia were the only states to vote in regularly scheduled legislative elections this year. All 80 seats in the House and 40 seats in the Senate were up in the Garden State. In Virginia, just the House of Delegates, with 100 seats, faced elections. Virginia senators were not up for election this year because they serve four-year terms with their next election scheduled for 2019. Legislators in Louisiana and Mississippi will be on the ballot then too, along with New Jersey legislators and Virginia’s delegates again.

The Virginia House of Delegates has been held by Republicans since the dawn of the new millennium. The GOP went into this year’s election with a hefty margin (66 Republicans to 34 Democrats), which slipped as the night went on. A week after the election, the GOP holds a bare majority: 51 seats, with 49 declared for Democrats.  A recount is likely in at least one district, where the margin was 10 votes out of 23,192 total votes cast. While recounts rarely overturn results, if it were to happen, the Virginia House would be tied, 50-50, and the lieutenant governor, a Democrat, would cast the tie-breaking vote.

The Virginia Senate has been held for five of the last 10 years by Republicans, and will continue in GOP control at least until 2019.

The margins going into the election for New Jersey were 52 Democrats to 27 Republicans (with one vacancy) in the Assembly and 24 Democrats and 16 Republicans in the Senate. Post-election, it is 54 Democrats and 26 Republicans in the Assembly and 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the Senate. In both chambers there was a one-seat shift to the Democrats. 

Washington is the only other state with party control news. There, the Senate has been nominally held by Democrats since 2016 with a 25-24 advantage. The Dems have had “in name only” control, though, because one Democratic senator has caucused with Republicans, giving the GOP effective control. After this election, the Senate is now in the D camp in name and in practice.

An open race in District 45 between Manka Dhingra (D) and Jinyoung Lee Englund (R) was the deciding election. District 45, northeast of Seattle and on the east side of Lake Washington, has a history of competitive elections. Dhingra won.

The Evergreen State had four other special elections in the Senate, and three in the House as well. These races did not change partisan control in the Legislature. Eight other states also held special elections: Georgia (9 seats), Mass. (2), Mich. (2), Missouri (3), Mississippi (2), New Hampshire (2) and South Carolina (1). None changed partisan control in their legislatures.

You can see a full rundown on partisan control of legislatures on this table. 

Governors Races

Governors races were held in New Jersey and Virginia this year as well, the lowest number of regularly scheduled governor’s races in any recent year. For comparison’s sake, in 2018 36 governorships will be contested—a highwater mark.

Virginia’s gubernatorial race was perhaps the hottest in the nation, with some looking at it as a surrogate vote for or against President Donald Trump. With the victory of Democrat Ralph Northam, Virginia stays as is, with a Democrat in the governor’s mansion.

In New Jersey, the Democrat, Philip D. Murphy, won over his Republican opponent, Kim Guadagno, who had served as lieutenant governor under outgoing Republican Governor Chris Christie. With this change, come January, Republicans will hold 33 governorships, Democrats hold 16, and an independent, Bill Walker, will remain at the helm in Alaska.

State Control

Governors races matter in that they help determine state control—a measure of which party holds the governorship and the legislative chambers. When one party holds all three, some refer to it as a trifecta.
Going into the election, Republicans held a strong nationwide advantage in terms of state control, holding all seats of power in 24 states. Democrats held state control in seven states, and 18 states had divided control.

Republicans retained all their states, but the other two categories shifted. Now Democrats hold control in eight states, and 17 states remain divided. The change comes because New Jersey moved from the “divided” column to the Democrat column thanks to the governor’s election.

While NCSL has credited Dems in Washington with full state control since 2016, the shift in the Senate makes that control firm—but not a change in our count. And in Virginia, the state remains divided, since the Senate and House both remain under Republican control (with the caveat that at least one recount in the House is likely).

Congress, Local Races and More

The only congressional election this November was decided by voters in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District. A special election was held there to replace Republican Jason Chaffetz, who retired in May. As expected, Republican John Curtis, formerly the mayor of Provo, won the seat. So, the status quo still stands in the House of Representatives: 240 Republicans and 194 Democrats, with one vacancy.

The next congressional special election is just around the corner, Dec. 12, in Alabama. The Republican nominee, Roy Moore, faces off against Democrat Doug Jones. After that, politicos will be full-tilt aiming for the 2018 midterm elections, where all 435 representatives and 33 senate races will be on ballots.

Many municipal elections are held in odd-numbered years. This year, mayoral seats were up in Seattle, New York, Boston, Detroit, St. Petersburg and many other cities. See the U.S. Conference of Mayors for details. See the U.S. Conference of Mayors for details.

—Wendy Underhill

Statewide Ballot Measures 2017: Voters Approve Medicaid ACA Expansion and Infrastructure Improvements

The results are in—most of them anyways. In 2017, states have now voted on all 27 total statewide ballot measures. This number includes one Maine question that was held in the summer and four that were decided in October (three in Louisiana and one in West Virginia). A total of 22 were decided on Nov. 7, 2017.

Sixteen of those 22 measures passed. In an off-year election that had a remarkably similar number of questions as previous elections, this year’s ballot measures included two major health care items as well as questions on the perennial issues of infrastructure funding and taxes.

Maine voters approved an expansion of Medicaid through Issue 2 in a vote that some have linked as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and subsequent Republican attempts to repeal it. The state became the 32nd state to approve the expansion of the ACA and the first to approve it through a citizens’ initiative.

The other major health care measure failed. The reasons are far from clear. In an attempt to limit prescription costs, Ohio Issue 2 would have required that state-funded health programs pay no more for drugs than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Issue 2 became the most expensive ballot question in the state’s history, with the majority share of funds spent by the pharmaceutical industry in opposition to the proposal. This Ohio measure followed a similar measure in California from 2016, Proposition 61, which met the same fate.

Voters approved transportation and infrastructure issues, however. Maine voters had already approved a bond measure in the summer that sought to spark business investment. On Nov. 7, Maine voters also approved Question 3, a bond to fund highways, bridges and more. In October, Louisiana and West Virginia voters led the way by passing their own transportation funding packages. In addition to electing a new governor, New Jersey approved a measure funding libraries, a consistent popular choice.

The perennial issue of taxes appeared in a few states as well. Voters in Louisiana and Texas have now both approved tax exemptions for the surviving spouses of first-responders killed in the line of duty. The Lonestar State also approved a tax exemption for partially disabled vets and surviving spouses.

Technically, Washington state voters weighed in on three ballot “advisory questions.” While legally non-binding, voters nonetheless disapproved of the three tax increases that the state Legislature had passed earlier in the year.

On the last two closely-watched ballot measures, both in New York, voters rejected the chance to hold a state constitutional convention (a question posed to Empire State voters every 20 years because it is written into the state constitution itself). But voters there did approve a reform to the state pension system allowing a judge to revoke a public servant’s pension if he is convicted of a felony related to his position. It allows for harsher punishments for wrongdoers while also eliminating the ability of a government employee being able to both be sent to prison and still collect a state pension.

For complete details on this year’s ballot measures—and all previous years—see NCSL’s Ballot Measures database.


—Patrick R. Potyondy

Pre-Election Analysis of Legislative Races and Ballot Measures

Vote buttonOn Nov. 7, many election observers will be looking closely at a special election in Utah to fill a vacant U.S. House seat, or perhaps at the two gubernatorial races on tap this year. While those races are noteworthy, from NCSL’s perspective the real races are the 250 legislative seats up that same day.

Legislative Races

Voters in New Jersey and Virginia will decide who their legislators will be this November. In New Jersey, all 80 seats in the House and 40 seats in the Senate are up this year, whereas in Virginia, it is just the 100 seats in the House of Delegates that face elections this year.

(If you are among the cognoscenti who know that Louisiana and Mississippi use odd-year elections for legislators and are wondering why they are missing this year, we have the answer. All legislators in those states serve four-year terms, and they will be up again in 2019.)

Both New Jersey chambers are held by Democrats, and both Virginia chambers are held by Republicans. Observers don’t expect any chamber flips this year. Going into the election, the New Jersey Senate is 24D-16R; the New Jersey House is 52D-27R (with one vacancy); and the Virginia House is 66R-34D going into the election. Those margins are all large enough to make chamber flips a long shot. See similar party composition data for all states.  

The only chamber with any likelihood of changing hands in November is the Washington Senate. While the Evergreen State does not hold general elections in odd years, eight special elections will be held in the state on Nov 7. The Senate nominally belongs to the Democrats, who have a 25-24 advantage. But since Senator Tim Sheldon (D) has chosen to caucus with Republicans, it is the Republicans who maintain effective control of the chamber. The open race in District 45 between Manka Dhingra (D) and Jinyoung Lee Englund (R) has the potential to upset this precarious balance of power. District 45, northeast of Seattle on the east side of Lake Washington, has a history of competitive elections, and if Dhingra were to defeat Englund, then Democrats would retake control of the Senate and become the seventh state in which Democrats control both legislative chambers as well as the governorship.

  • Special elections for legislative seats are on ballots in eight other states, too, for a total of 30 special elections in total: Georgia (9 seats), Mass. (2), Mich. (2), Missouri (3), Miss. (2), New Hampshire (2) and South Carolina (1).

Other Races to Watch

In addition to legislative seats, the governor’s office (and other statewide offices) in New Jersey and Virginia are on this year’s ballots as well. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, has kept the Garden State from having complete Democratic state control for the last eight years. His lt. governor, Kim Guadagno, also a Republican, faces off against Democratic candidate Philip D. Murphy. Some see the election as a referendum on Christie’s legacy: If Guadagno is elected, would it be four more years of Christie-like government? Guadagno has made it clear that Christie isn’t on the ballot—she is. Four minor party or independent candidates are in the New Jersey governor’s race too.

In Virginia, the race is said to be all about President Donald Trump. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, is limited to just one term by the Old Dominion’s constitution. The open race is between McAuliffe’s lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam (a Democrat), and Ed Gillespie, the Republican. Gillespie is getting a lot of questions about Trump, and makes it clear he’s running for a state office, not a national one. Libertarian Clifford D. Hyra is running as well.

Right now, Republicans hold 33 governorships, Democrats hold 16, and an independent, Bill Walker, is at the helm in Alaska. The outcomes of the 2017 governors races won’t change much, but next year’s 36 governor’s races will be a different story.

Utah’s voters will vote on a special election for a vacant U.S. House seat, the only seat that changes the roster in Congress. John Curtis, the mayor of Provo, is the Republican candidate for the House seat vacated in May by Republican Jason Chaffetz. Curtis will face Democrat Kathie Allen and candidates from the Libertarian, United Utah and Independent American minor parties, plus an independent candidate.

For more election analysis see NCSL’s blog.

—Wendy Underhill

Ballot Measures

Twenty-five ballot measures will be voted on across eight states in November, with two states, West Virginia and Louisiana, already having voted on its ballot measure in October. This tally is similar to the numbers seen in recent off-years. In 2015, there were 28 items; in 2013, there were 26; and in 2011, a total of 34.

Only four of this year’s measures are citizens initiatives, put on the ballot by groups who have gathered signatures. Of the 27 total 2017 ballot measures, most are constitutional amendments, clocking in at 18 total (as opposed to statutory changes). The majority of statewide ballot measures (20) are legislative referendums, sent to the voters by their state legislature. The final three measures are nonbinding advisory votes in Washington state.

The ballot measure themes are similar to recent years. A few include:

Health Care: Maine’s Question 2 would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. If passed, it would provide Medicaid through MaineCare for people under the age of 65 and with incomes equal to or below 138 percent of the official poverty line. Maine is one of 19 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Ohio Issue 2 would require that state-funded health programs including Medicaid, health care in correctional facilities and state employee and retiree health plans, pay no more than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The ballot question also provides that specifically listed individuals (those supporting the ballot measure) would have a right to sue and be reimbursed in any legal challenge that seeks to invalidate the law if it is approved, with the state of Ohio covering the costs of such a court case.

Infrastructure: Three measures this fall seek to fund infrastructure, one each in Louisiana, Maine and West Virginia. Maine voters already approved one ballot measure in June 2017, a bond to spark research, development and commercialization in the state. The current measure under consideration in Maine for November would provide funds for highways and bridges and for facilities related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, and stream crossings, all to be used to match federal and other funds. Louisiana’s amendment, which voters approved, established a “Construction Subfund” that would dedicate any new tax levied on fuels for project delivery, construction, and maintenance of transportation and capital transit infrastructure projects. And West Virginia, which also held its election in early October, passed its measure by a solid margin.

Taxes: Louisiana and Texas list tax exemption amendments to benefit the surviving spouse of first-responders killed in the line of duty. Louisiana voters approved the measure with 67 percent of the vote. Texas also lists a tax exemption amendment for partially disabled military veterans. And both Pennsylvania and Louisiana list amendments for property tax exemptions. All three of Washington’s nonbinding advisory questions related to tax increases passed by the state legislature.

Additional issues on ballots this year include criminal justice, gambling and pensions.

You can view all of the ballot measures at the NCSL Ballot Measure Database.

Here are all of the ballot measures with links to official sources:

—Patrick R. Potyondy

Additional Resources