Ballotpedia’s Daily Brew: 30 state legislative races decided by < 100 votes in 2020

30 state legislative races were decided by fewer than 100 votes in 2020

The saying goes, “every vote counts.” For these races, fewer than 100 votes decided the winner. 

Out of the 5,875 total state legislative elections in 2020, 30 (0.5%) races were decided by fewer than 100 votes. Twenty-nine of the races were for a state House, and one was for a state Senate.

Here are some more highlights for you:

  • Partisan control changed in 15 (50%) of the 30 races. Thirteen of the partisan changes (43.3%) were Republican pickups, and two (6.67%) were Democratic pickups. Fifteen seats did not change partisan control.
  • Of the 30 seats, 15 were won by Democratic candidates and 15 by Republicans.
  • Of the 86 state legislative chambers that held elections in 2020, 14 (16.3%) had at least one race that was decided by fewer than 100 votes.
  • The narrowest margin in any state legislative election last November was for a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Incumbent Timothy Fontneau (D) defeated Harrison deBree (R) by four votes.
  • The New Hampshire House of Representatives had 11 races decided by fewer than 100 votes—more than any other chamber. As of 2010, there were, on average, 3,291 people in each New Hampshire House district, making them the smallest state legislative districts in the country. 
    • The Vermont House of Representatives had five races decided by fewer than 100 votes—the second-highest number after the New Hampshire House.
  • Most of the races took place in districts with small population sizes compared to the rest of the country. Twenty-four races (80%) were in districts with a population of less than 25,000. Districts that size made up 26.3% of all state legislative districts as of 2010.

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New York voters to decide redistricting-related constitutional amendment at the 2021 general election

The first year of a decade means redistricting, and in New York voters will have an opportunity to weigh-in on a ballot measure that could impact how the state draws districts for the next decade.

On Jan. 20, the New York State Assembly approved an amendment that would make changes to the redistricting process in the state, including the redistricting cycle to be based on the 2020 U.S. Census. The amendment will appear on the Nov. 2, 2021 ballot.

The measure would change vote thresholds for adopting a redistricting plan when one political party controls both legislative chambers. It would also add requirements for counting certain persons for redistricting purposes. 

Proponents of the measure argue that the current system will give Republicans an undue advantage in the redistricting process. Opponents argue that the amendment reduces, or eliminates, a minority power’s ability to have any input and thus makes redistricting more partisan.

The state Senate approved the amendment on Jan. 12. Since the state constitution requires that constitutional amendments be approved during two successive legislative sessions before going to voters, both legislative chambers approved the amendment in 2020 as well. 

The state Senate vote was 42- 20, along party lines. The state Assembly vote was 100-50. Most Assembly Democrats (99 of 106) voted ‘yes’ on the amendment, and seven Democrats and all 43 Republicans voted ‘no’ on the amendment.

The New York State Legislature could place several other constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2021, including several related to electoral policy and an environmental rights amendment.

Keep reading at the link below to learn more about the amendment.

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Looking at 2021 state supreme court vacancies

Another 2021 landscape we’re looking at is upcoming state supreme court vacancies. So far this year, there have been two new state supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have both been caused by retirements. Those two vacancies bring the total number of 2021 state supreme court vacancies to five.

  • In Colorado, Chief Justice Nathan Coats retired on Jan. 1, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. Gov. Jared Polis (D) appointed Maria Berkenkotter to the state Supreme Court on Nov. 20, 2020. Berkenkotter is Polis’ first nominee to the seven-member supreme court. 
  • In South Dakota, Chief Justice David Gilbertson retired in early January, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) appointed Scott P. Myren to the state Supreme Court on October 28, 2020.

Currently, Maine is the only appointment state which had a vacancy in 2020 which has yet to be filled.

Three more states will see vacancies from retirement on their state supreme courts in 2021:

  • Leslie Stein, June 4, New York
  • Joel Bolger, June 30, Alaska
  • Eugene Fahey, Dec. 31, New York

In Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) will fill the vacancy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will fill both of the vacancies on the New York Supreme Court.

In 2020, there were 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.
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About the author

Dave Beaudoin

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