More state legislative seats are open this year than at any point since 2012

Welcome to the Wednesday, August 31, Brew. 

By: David Luchs

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. More state legislative seats are open this year than at any point since 2012
  2. Medicaid, marijuana, and multiple uncontested Republicans on the ballot in South Dakota
  3. Candidates advance in Alaska congressional elections

More state legislative seats are open this year than at any point since 2012

The number of open state legislative seats, those where no incumbents are running, is at its highest point in a decade.

Open seats contribute to incumbent turnover. Since no incumbents are present, a newcomer is guaranteed to win every open seat.

There are 1,495 open seats this year, meaning newcomers will win at least 24% of all seats up for election

Open seats can occur because an incumbent leaves office or runs for re-election in a different district than the one they currently represent.

Term limits, which can require an incumbent to leave office, also affect the number of open seats. Fourteen states holding elections this year have term limits for state legislators.

This year’s state legislative elections are taking place under new district lines adopted following the 2020 census, leading to more open seats. There are 64 state legislative seats nationwide that are open because the incumbent is running for re-election to the same chamber in a different district and no other incumbent is running.

There were 252 term-limited state legislators in 2022, representing 4.0% of all seats up for election. This is a larger number than in 2020 and 2014 but lower than in 2018 and 2016. 

While the number of term-limited legislators increased this year, the effect these limits have on the overall number of open seats lessened.

Typically, term limits have accounted for 23 or 24% of all open seats. This year, term limits account for 17% of those seats.

Here’s a breakdown of how open seats figures vary by state:

  • There are four states where more than 40% of seats up for election are open: Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and Nebraska. All four states have term limits.
  • There are 18 states where between 25% and 40% of seats are open.
  • There are 15 states where between 10% and 25% of seats are open.
  • There are nine states, none of which have term limits, where less than 10% of seats are open.

Nebraska had the highest percentage of open seats this year, with 54% (13) seats open. However, Nebraska is also the state with the fewest seats up for election this year (24). In Arizona, where all 90 seats are open, 48% (43) are open.

Utah had the lowest rate of open seats this year at 9% of seats up (eight open seats).

Use the link below to view more historical state- and chamber-specific data about open state legislative seats.

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Medicaid, marijuana, and multiple uncontested Republicans on the ballot in South Dakota

Today is the third day of our 50 States in 50 days series, and we’re featuring South Dakota, the Mount Rushmore State!

Week One: Pennsylvania, Indiana

On the ballot in South Dakota

South Dakota voters will elect one U.S. Senator and one at-large representative to the U.S. House.

All elected state executive offices are on the ballot, including the governorship and the offices of secretary of state and attorney general. 

Monae Johnson (R) defeated incumbent Secretary of State Steve Barnett (R), first elected in 2018, at the state Republican Party convention. In 2021, Barnett sponsored a bill to create an online voter registration system. The bill did not pass. Johnson campaigned against online voter registration. Johnson faces Tom Cool (D) in the general election.

This is also the first election following the impeachment and removal of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R). Former Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) is the only candidate on the general election ballot and will return to office.

Voters will also elect a treasurer, auditor, commissioner of school and public lands, and one of the three positions on the state’s public utilities commission.

All 105 state legislative seats are up for election: 70 in the House and 35 in the Senate. Thirty-four seats are open, guaranteeing newcomers will make up at least 32% of the legislature next year.

Two state supreme court justices must stand for retention elections.

Click here for more information about the races on the ballot this year.

Redistricting highlights

  • South Dakota’s number of congressional districts remained the same at one, making it one of six states that elects a single at-large representative.
  • State legislative elections will take place under new district lines. Our side-by-side map comparison tool shows how redistricting affected those districts. Here are the state legislative maps in effect before and after the 2020 redistricting cycle in South Dakota:

To interact with this tool and learn more about redistricting in South Dakota, click here.

Partisan balance

  • Both of South Dakota’s U.S. senators—Mike Rounds and John Thune—are Republicans.
  • South Dakota’s at-large U.S. representative, Dusty Johnson, is a Republican.
  • Republicans hold a 32-3 majority in the state Senate and a 62-8 majority in the state House. Because the governor is a Republican, South Dakota is one of 23 Republican trifectas. It has held this status since 1995.
  • South Dakota has had a Republican governor since 1979, the longest current streak for the party in the country.
  • Along with the governor, the secretary of state and attorney general are also Republicans, making the state one of 23 with a Republican triplex among those offices.

Seats contested by only one major party

In 2022, 57 state legislative seats in South Dakota, or 54% of the seats up for election, do not have major party competition. When a candidate from only one of either the Democratic or Republican parties runs for a state legislative seat, that party is effectively guaranteed to win the seat.

Democrats are contesting 46% of all state legislative seats. Fifty-seven seats (54%) do not have a Democratic candidate, meaning a Republican is likely to win.

Republicans are contesting all state legislative seats, meaning there are no seats where a Democrat is all but guaranteed to win.

Key races

  • South Dakota’s House District 12: In this two-member district, Rep. Greg Jamison (R) is running for re-election and Rep. Arch Beal (R) is running for state Senate, leaving his seat open. Beal placed second in 2020, defeating Erin Royer (D) by 0.37 percentage points, the 34th-narrowest state legislative margin of victory in the country last cycle. Royer is running again this year along with Kristin Hayward (D) and Amber Arlint (R).

Ballot measures

There are two statewide measures on the ballot in 2022.

  • Constitutional Amendment D would require the state to provide Medicaid benefits to adults between 18 and 65 with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.
  • Initiated Measure 27 would legalize marijuana use, possession, and distribution for individuals 21 years and older. Voters approved a similar measure in 2020 with 54% of the vote. The state supreme court declared that measure unconstitutional last year.

In South Dakota, 112 ballot measures appeared on statewide ballots between 1985 and 2020. Forty-nine were approved, and 63 were defeated.


  • Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.
  • South Dakota requires identification to vote. For more information about voter ID requirements in South Dakota, click here.
  • Early voting is available to all voters beginning on Sept. 23 and ending on Nov. 7.
  • The voter registration deadline is Oct. 24. Registration can be done in person or by mail, with mailed forms received by the deadline.
  • All voters are eligible to cast absentee/mail-in ballots, which must be received by county election officials by 5 p.m. on Nov. 8, either delivered in person or mailed. The deadline to request an absentee/mail-in ballot is Nov. 7. To check the status of your ballot, click here.

Want to learn more about the elections you’ll be voting in this year? Click here to use our Sample Ballot Lookup tool!

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Candidates advance in Alaska congressional elections

Alaska voters will choose between three Republicans and one Democrat in both congressional elections ongoing in the state this year, based on preliminary election results from the Aug. 16 top-four primary.

In use for the first time this year, the top-four primary system places all candidates running for a given office on the same primary ballot. The top four finishers, regardless of their partisan affiliation, advance to the general election, which is conducted via ranked-choice voting.

In the U.S. House election, Mary Peltola (D), Sarah Palin (R), Nicholas Begich (R), and Tara Sweeney (R) were the top four finishers. As of this writing, Peltola had 37% of the vote, followed by Palin with 30%, Begich with 26%, and Sweeney with 4%. 

Sweeney announced on Aug. 23 that she would withdraw from the race, meaning the fifth-place finisher would take her spot on the general election ballot. As of this writing, Chris Bye (L) was the next-place finisher with 0.6% of the vote, followed by J.R. Myers (L) with 0.3%.

In the U.S. Senate election, the top four finishers were Lisa Murkowski (R), Kelly Tshibaka (R), Patricia Chesbro (D), and Buzz Kelley (R). Murkowski led with 45% of the vote, followed by Tshibaka with 39%, Chesbro with 7%, and Kelley with 2%.

As of this writing, the special election for Alaska’s at-large House district remained too close to call. Alaska held a special election for U.S. House Aug. 16 to fill the vacancy created when U.S. Rep. Don Young (R) died in March. 

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