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An Oddly Interesting Odd-Year Election

The pandemic and census data delays have conspired to create wrinkles, and heightened interest, in the elections of 2023.

By Ben Williams  |  October 25, 2023

Odd-year elections are usually quiet affairs. Since they involve only a handful of states electing legislators and governors, they are typically overshadowed in major news outlets by horse race coverage of the upcoming election the following year.

But 2023 is unusual for odd-year elections, and the reason is COVID-19. Because the pandemic delayed the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of population data, New Jersey and Virginia had to use decade-old district maps for their 2021 elections. Those maps have now been replaced, making 2023 the first election in both states with the new district boundaries.

The 2023 Election, by the Numbers

  • 578 — The total number of legislative seats up for regularly scheduled elections this year, including every seat in both chambers in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. That number does not include special elections in the other 46 states, Washington, D.C., or the territories.
  • 7, 14 and 18 — The dates in October and November of the three elections this year. Nov. 7 is when all legislative seats are up in Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. Louisiana’s all-comers primary system occurs in two rounds: Oct. 14 and Nov. 18.
  • 3 — The number of governors to be elected this year, in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. Louisiana’s seat is open, while incumbents in Kentucky and Mississippi are running for reelection. Kentucky is the only state that elects its executive officers in different years from its legislators; the former run in odd years, the latter in even years.

Close Races in the Commonwealths

This year’s news has centered largely on Virginia and Kentucky, with a focus on the former, which is closely divided politically and home to one of only two legislatures split between the two major parties (Republicans hold the House, Democrats hold the Senate).

The Virginia Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, was not up for election in 2021 when a GOP ticket led by Glenn Youngkin swept races statewide, flipping control of the House and every executive office. The edge in both chambers is close: The Senate has 22 Democrats and 18 Republicans, while the House (not counting vacancies) has 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats. If Republicans flip the Senate, they’ll gain full control of state government for the first time since 2013. If Democrats hold the Senate or flip the House, or do both, they’ll preserve divided government in the Old Dominion.

In Kentucky, Democratic incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear is running for reelection against Republican Attorney General David Cameron, who would become the state’s first Black governor if he were to win. The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rates the race as “Lean Democrat.” A Beshear win would extend an unlikely streak for Bluegrass State Democrats, with the party holding the governor’s mansion for 12 of the last 16 years despite the state’s Republican lean in federal and legislative races.

Republicans Win Full Control in Louisiana

In Louisiana’s Oct. 14 primary, all legislative seats and statewide executive offices were on the ballot. All candidates, regardless of party, competed in a single race; in the cases where no candidate received a majority of votes, the top two vote-getters advanced to the general election on Nov. 18. Candidates who received a majority of votes on Oct. 14 won their seats outright and no general election for those seats is required.

Louisiana’s October primaries resulted in a new trifecta—when one party has control of the governorship and both chambers of the legislature. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was term-limited, and the open race to succeed him appears to have been won by Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican. (NCSL uses the qualifier “appears to have been won” because the results are still unofficial, with final certification coming soon.)

With Louisiana Republicans certain to retain their legislative majorities this year because Democrats did not field candidates in a majority of seats, the GOP now has trifectas in every state in the Deep South.

Little Change Likely in Mississippi and New Jersey

Despite new district maps, New Jersey’s legislative elections are expected to return Democratic majorities to Trenton. In Mississippi, as in Louisiana, the reverse is true: because Democrats did not field candidates in enough districts to win majorities in the Legislature even if all their candidates won, Republicans are guaranteed to continue their control of the statehouse in Jackson.

While that may seem anticlimactic, Mississippi’s gubernatorial race is of interest. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is running for reelection against Brandon Presley, a Democrat and a member of the state’s Public Service Commission. Despite Mississippi’s reputation as a ruby red state, Reeves only won the 2019 election by 5.1% over then-Democratic nominee Jim Hood. While prognosticators expect Reeves to win, this race might be just as close—or closer—as the last one.

An Especially Special Election

Special elections don’t always make the news, but consider New Hampshire, where the 400-seat House, the largest state legislative body in the nation, is on a knife’s edge.

Since 2022, Republicans have maintained the slightest advantage in partisan control. In a legislative body this large, the usual turnover from resignations and deaths—and subsequent special elections—means that control could flip to the Democrats. Currently, the breakdown of control in the House is 198 Republicans, 197 Democrats, two Independents and three vacancies. One of those vacancies will be filled Nov. 7. If Democrats win that seat, they will have an opportunity to overtake Republicans in the special elections to fill the other vacancies. Those races, in Coos County Districts 1 and 6, will be held in January.

Ben Williams is the associate director of NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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