The Daily Brew: Recapping Ballotpedia’s 2021 state legislative competitiveness study

Welcome to the Monday, September 27, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. State legislative elections in 2021 are the most contested since at least 2010
  2. Two state legislators switch political party affiliation
  3. Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria retires

State legislative elections in 2021 are the most contested since at least 2010

There are 220 state legislative seats up for election on Nov. 2, 2021, in three state legislative chambers: the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly and the Virginia House of Delegates.

According to Ballotpedia’s Annual State Legislative Competitiveness Report, state legislative elections in 2021 are the most competitive since at least 2010.

Ballotpedia’s Competitiveness Index is a standalone figure representing the general level of competition in an election cycle. It is calculated using the percentages of open seats, incumbents in contested primaries, and seats with major party competition. The 2021 state legislative election cycle received a Competitiveness Index of 40.2—the highest on record to date.

Major party competition refers to races where both a Democrat and Republican are contesting a seat in the general election. Of the 220 seats up for election, 205—93%—will see major party competition in November. This surge in competitiveness was largely driven by an increase in major party competition in the Virginia House of Delegates.

The New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly typically have high levels of major party competition every election cycle. In the Virginia House of Delegates, however, there are 93 contested seats in 2021 compared to 41 in 2011—a 78% difference.

At the other end of the spectrum, the percentage of open seats—seats where the incumbent did not file for re-election—was at its lowest since at least 2013. Of the 220 incumbents, 17—7.7%—did not file for re-election: seven Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Overall, 203 incumbents filed for re-election, 80% of whom advanced to the general election without a primary challenge. The remaining 20% represented 40 incumbents: 23 Democrats and 17 Republicans. These contested primaries resulted in the defeats of eight incumbents: five Democrats and three Republicans. Eight defeats is a relatively high number for the three chambers holding elections in 2021. Before 2021, the highest number of incumbents defeated in primaries in a given election cycle was two.

Ahead of the general elections, 2021 is already tied for the second-most incumbents defeated in these chambers since 2011.

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Two state legislators switch political party affiliation

Two state legislators switched their political party affiliation the week of Sept. 13. New Hampshire state Rep. William Marsh switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, and Minnesota state Rep. John Thompson became an independent after members of the Minnesota House Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) caucus voted to expel him following allegations of abuse and misconduct.

Marsh is the seventh state legislator in New Hampshire we’ve identified who has switched parties and is the only one to switch to Democrat. Of the other six, four became Libertarians and two became Republicans. Thompson is the third Minnesota state legislator we’ve identified who has switched parties; all three switched to independent.

Ballotpedia has identified 145 state legislators—39 state senators and 106 state representatives—who have switched parties since 1994. 

Eleven state legislators have switched parties so far in 2021. Seven state legislators switched parties in 2020, and 12 switched in 2019. Nationwide, 74 state lawmakers switched from Democrat to Republican, and 20 switched from Republican to Democrat since 1994. The others switched to or from being independent or other parties.

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Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria retires

Paolo DeMaria retired as Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction on Sept. 24. DeMaria was first appointed to the position in May 2016 by the Ohio State Board of Education.

The Board of Education selected Stephanie K. Siddens to serve as the interim superintendent until they choose a permanent replacement. Siddens has worked at the Ohio Department of Education since 2006 in several positions, including the senior executive director of the Center for Student Supports.

The Ohio superintendent of public instruction is an appointed state executive position in the Ohio state government. The superintendent serves as the secretary to the Board of Education and also its executive and administrative officer. The superintendent is responsible for executing the educational policies, orders, and administrative functions of the board as well as directing the work of all employees who work in the department of education.

The position of superintendent exists in all 50 states. It is elected in 12 and appointed in the remaining 38.

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