Ballotpedia’s Daily Brew: The 75 closest congressional races of 2020

Welcome to the Thursday, Nov. 19, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Seventy-five congressional elections were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer
  2. Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois decide ballot measures regarding state income taxes
  3. Local roundup

Seventy-five congressional elections were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer

Here’s more post-election analysis: Seventy-five (or 16%) of congressional elections were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer. Eight were races for U.S. Senate, and 67 were for U.S. House. 

This marks the second straight election cycle when more than 15% of congressional races were decided within that margin. In 2018, 22% were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer. Nine percent and 12% of races were decided by that margin in 2016 and 2014, respectively. 

In 2020, Democrats won 40 of these elections and Republicans won 35. 

Note: 14  U.S. House races were uncalled as of this writing (they’re not counted in the analysis below), and final counts haven’t been certified in many others. Ballotpedia will not project a winner for U.S. House elections until there is a consensus projection made by a pool of five national news outlets—ABC News, CNN, Fox News, NBC, and The New York Times. These numbers will change over the coming days and weeks.

Of the top three closest races this year (that have been called), two of the three resulted in a party change. Those were:

Thirty-five races were decided by fewer than five percentage points; three of those were U.S. Senate races, and 32 were U.S. House races. Of those, Democrats won 22 and Republicans won 13. 

In comparison, 102 races were decided by 10 percentage points or fewer in 2018. Of these, 12 were elections for the U.S. Senate, and 90 were elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 49 of these elections, and Republican candidates won 53. 

Fifty races in 2018 were decided by fewer than five percentage points: five elections for the U.S. Senate and 45 were elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 24 of these elections, and Republican candidates won 26.

There were 42 and 56 congressional races decided by 10 percentage points or fewer in 2016 and 2014, respectively. In 2016, nine were elections for the U.S. Senate, and 33 were elections for the U.S. House, with candidates from each major party winning 21 of the elections. In 2014, seven were elections for the U.S. Senate, and 49 were elections for the U.S. House. Democratic candidates won 32 of these elections, and Republican candidates won 24.

For races decided by fewer than five percentage points, there were 22 in 2016 and 31 in 2014. In 2016, five elections were for the U.S. Senate, and 17 were for the U.S. House seats, with Democratic candidates winning 14 of these elections and Republicans winning eight. In 2014, five were elections for the U.S. Senate, and 26 were for the U.S. House, with Democratic candidates winning 17 of these elections and Republican candidates winning 14.

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Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois decide ballot measures regarding state income taxes

Voters in 12 states voted on 19 ballot measures addressing tax-related policies on Nov. 3. Today, let’s look at the three which concerned state income taxes, which were on the ballot in Arizona, Colorado, and Illinois. Arizona voters approved a measure to increase tax rates for income above a certain level to fund education. Colorado voters approved a decrease to the state’s flat income tax rate. Illinois voters defeated a measure to allow for a graduated income tax. Here are the details:

  • Arizona Proposition 208: Voters approved the measure by a vote of 51.8% to 48.3%. The measure enacts a 3.50% income tax, in addition to the existing income tax, on taxable income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing). 
    • As of 2020, the highest income tax in Arizona was 4.50%, which was levied on income above $159,000 (single filing) or $318,000 (joint filing). Based on the existing income tax rates, the ballot initiative has the effect of increasing the tax rate from 4.50% to 8.00% on income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing). 
  • Colorado Proposition 116: Voters approved the measure by a vote of 57.9% to 42.2%. It decreases the state income tax rate from 4.63% to 4.55% for individuals, estates, trusts, and foreign and domestic C corporations operating in Colorado. 
    • The Colorado individual income tax rate has been a flat tax rate since 1987. The flat tax was 5% from 1987 to 1998. It was lowered to 4.75% in 1999. The rate has been 4.63% since 2000. 
  • Illinois Graduated Income Tax Amendment: Voters defeated the measure 54.5% to 45.5%. It would have authorized the state to enact legislation providing for a graduated income tax. The measure would have repealed the state’s constitutional requirement that the state’s personal income tax is a flat rate across income. Instead, the ballot measure would have allowed the state to enact legislation for a graduated income tax. In Illinois, income is taxed at a flat rate of 4.95%. 

Beyond these three tax-related policy measures on the Nov. 3 ballot, 10 others addressed property taxes, two addressed tobacco taxes, one addressed business-related taxes, one addressed sales tax rates, one addressed fees and surcharges, and one was related to tax-increment financing (TIF).

Heading into the 2020 election, 43 states levied a tax on personal income. Of these 43 states, 11 states had a flat income tax rate, meaning there is a constant rate across income before deductions and exemptions. The flat income tax rates ranged from 2.00% in Tennessee to 5.25% in North Carolina. Most (32 of 50) states had a graduated income tax, with different rates applied to different levels of income.

Since 2016, California, Colorado, and Maine voters have decided four measures designed to directly increase or renew income tax rates. Two were approved, and two were defeated. One was repealed after approval.

Local roundup

In today’s roundup of local election results and previews, here’s an update on a Seattle City Council recall effort.

The Washington Supreme Court will consider the appeal of a recall petition against Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant before the end of the year. Here’s a brief timeline of the events leading up to the court’s consideration.

  • Aug. 18: The recall against Sawant was initiated when lead petitioner Ernie Lou submitted a formal recall petition to the King County Elections Office.
  • Sept. 16: King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers certified four of the six grounds for recall contained in the petition.
  • Oct. 2: Sawant filed an appeal of the recall certification with the Washington Supreme Court. 
  • Nov. 12: The Washington Supreme Court issued a timeline for the appeal: 
    • Sawant’s opening brief is due to the court by Nov. 23
    • Petitioners’ response is due on Dec. 3
    • Sawant’s reply is due by Dec. 10

The court expects to rule on the appeal by Jan. 7, 2021. If Sawant’s appeal is unsuccessful, petitioners would be required to gather over 10,700 signatures from registered voters to get the recall on the ballot, which equals 25% of the total votes cast in the last District 3 election held in 2019.

Sawant represents District 3 on the Seattle City Council. Though the office is officially nonpartisan, Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party and, upon her election in 2013, was the first socialist elected to Seattle city government in 97 years.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.
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About the author

Dave Beaudoin

Dave Beaudoin is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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