At least half the nation’s legislatures are on track to have veto-proof majorities next year, giving America’s first branch of government more control than ever over policymaking.
State lawmaking mirrors the famous lesson from “Schoolhouse Rock!”: Legislators introduce bills that move through committees and, if approved, go to the floor of both legislative chambers. If both chambers vote in favor of the bill, it goes to the governor for a signature or veto.
If the governor signs the bill, it becomes a law; but if he or she vetoes it, the legislature can override the veto and the bill still becomes law. The number of votes it takes to override a veto varies from a simple majority in each chamber to two-thirds of elected members in each chamber. When the majority-party caucus in both chambers exceeds that threshold, NCSL considers that party to have a “veto-proof” majority.
Just because a party has a veto-proof majority doesn’t mean it uses it all the time, or at all.
Going into Election Day, 21 legislatures had such majorities: 15 for Republicans and six for Democrats. After the election, the majority parties retained control in at least 20, and new veto-proof majorities were likely to form in five more: Vermont, Delaware and Illinois for Democrats, and Florida and Ohio for Republicans. Votes are still being counted, but Republicans have a chance to pick up an additional veto-proof majority in Montana. One existing veto-proof majority in New York appears to have dissolved as Republicans gained seats in the Empire State’s Assembly.
Just because a party has a veto-proof majority doesn’t mean it uses it all the time, or at all. As any legislative leader would tell you, legislators are individuals who vote their conscience and their values, which may often—but not always—track with leaders’ wishes. But even the potential for a legislative majority to override a governor’s veto is important because it transfers significant policymaking power to state lawmakers.