Contested U.S. House races are becoming more common

Welcome to the Monday, June 26, Brew. 

By: Juan Garcia de Paredes and Douglas Kronaizl

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

  1. More U.S. House races now have major-party competition
  2. Statewide rent control initiative may be on California ballots for the third time in four election cycles
  3. Governors have vetoed twice as many election-related bills this year compared to 2022

More U.S. House races now have major-party competition

Over the past decade, the percentage of U.S. House of Representatives elections with only a Democrat or a Republican on the ballot has decreased, with most recent cycles dropping below the past century’s average.

From 1920 to 2018, 14.4% of all U.S. House general elections had only one major party candidate.

By comparison, here is the recent breakdown:

Since 1920, the election years with the most races without major party competition were 1930 (99), 1998 (95), 1942 (89), 1958 (89), and 1934 (83). Conversely, the election years with the fewest races without major party competition were 1996 (21), 2020 (27), 2010 (29), 1992 (31), and a tie between 1932 and 2022 (35).

Broken down by party, there were 738 races without a Democratic candidate and 2,465 races without a Republican candidate in the 52 election cycles from 1920 to 2022. Eight of the cycles had more races without a Democratic candidate than races without a Republican candidate. Those election years were all in the past 30 years: 1994, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2012, and 2022.

The year with the most races without a Democratic candidate was 1998, with 56. The year with the fewest was 1932, when there were no races without a Democratic candidate. The year with the most races without a Republican candidate was 1958, with 88, and the year with the fewest was 2010, with five. 

In 2022, the races without a Democratic candidate were located in Alabama (2), Arizona (2), Florida (3), Louisiana (2), North Dakota (1), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (3), Texas (6), and Wisconsin (2). The races without a Republican candidate were located in California (7), Illinois (1), Massachusetts (1), New York (2), and Pennsylvania (1).

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Statewide rent control initiative may be on California ballots for the third time in four election cycles

Now let’s take a look at California, where an initiative to limit rent control measures may appear on the ballot for the third time since 2018.

Justice for Renters, an initiative campaign sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), submitted signatures on June 20 to place an initiative on next year’s ballot.

This initiative would prohibit the state from limiting local rent control measures. If approved, this would be the third rent control initiative the AHF has sponsored in four election cycles. The two previous initiatives in 2018 and 2020 were defeated with about 59% of voters opposing both measures.

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 27 states have laws preempting local rent control measures. California’s situation is unique. While localities can enact rent control policies—like those in San Francisco—the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits rent control on single-family homes and newly-constructed rental properties. It also prohibits local laws that require landlords to collect the same rent from a new tenant as they did from the previous one.

This proposed initiative would repeal the Costa-Hawkins law, allowing localities to limit rent on any form of housing and for first-time tenants. Any local laws currently inoperative under Costa-Hawkins would take effect upon its repeal.

Based on the most recent campaign finance reports, supporters of the proposed 2024 initiative have spent $2.3 million with none spent in opposition. But expect that number to change.

Both Proposition 10 in 2018 and Proposition 21 in 2020 had roughly $100 million spent in support and opposition, collectively, with most spending coming from opponents.

In the 2020 Official Voter Information Guide, proponents of Proposition 21 said that voting in favor of the initiative would “keep families in their homes, preserve affordable housing, stop homelessness, and save taxpayers money.”

The National Taxpayers Union’s Thomas Aiello said the proposal “will hurt renters by discouraging private sector builders from bringing more affordable housing units to the market.”

We do not yet know the total number of signatures submitted to local election officials. Sponsors need at least 546,651 valid signatures to make the ballot. Next steps involve tallying and validating those signatures.

Seven ballot measures have already qualified for California’s 2024 ballot.

One of those measures also relates to housing. The Legislature put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would change the process for approving government-funded housing projects. Currently, any federal- and/or state-funded housing projects classified as low rent require voter approval via a local ballot measure. If approved, the proposed change would remove the voter approval requirement.

The other six measures, including two veto referendums, are related to pandemic prevention, the state’s minimum wage, remediation for labor violations, vote requirements for new taxes, regulation of fast-food working conditions, and oil and gas well regulations.

An average of 82 initiatives were filed in California between 2010 and 2022, with about nine qualifying for the ballot each election cycle.

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Governors have vetoed twice as many election-related bills this year compared to 2022

As of June 22, governors vetoed 30 election-related bills, double the 15 vetoed at this point in 2022.

A large chunk of those vetoes came just this past week, when two governors—Arizona’s Katie Hobbs (D) and Nevada’s Joe Lombardo (R)—vetoed 11 election-related bills (seven and four bills, respectively).

Both states have divided governments, with Republicans controlling the legislature in Arizona and Democrats controlling the body in Nevada. Neither Republicans in Arizona nor Democrats in Nevada have the numbers to override a gubernatorial veto by themselves.

Here’s a quick look at two of those recently-vetoed bills:

  • Hobbs vetoed Senate Bill 1471, which would have required any county with more than two million people to conduct a targeted audit after the election, comparing a hand count tally to machine count totals. Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, is the only one that would have been affected. 

In her veto message, Hobbs said, “The 2022 election is settled. It’s time to move on and start working to solve the problems faced by everyday Arizonans.”

  • Lombardo vetoed Assembly Bill 246 would have required that election materials be printed in languages other than English.

In his veto message, Lombardo said, “Nevada’s current laws sufficiently accomplish the goal of ensuring language accessibility in accordance with Federal law,” and that “local officers are already empowered to provide election materials in additional languages at their discretion.”

Arizona accounts for two-thirds of all vetoed election-related bills this year, followed by Nevada at slightly less than one-quarter. Kansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming have each had one vetoed election-related bill this year.

Overall, lawmakers across the country have enacted 239 election-related bills this year, 64 more than the 175 enacted at this point in 2022.

Of this year’s 239 enacted bills, Republicans sponsored 143, or 60%, up from 51% last year. Democrats sponsored 20%, down from 24% last year. Bills with bipartisan sponsorship make up 12% of those enacted, down from 17% last year. And those with unclear partisan sponsorship are up 8% from 7% last year.

Click here to see this year’s enacted bills.

And to stay up-to-date with the latest news in election-related legislation, subscribe to The Ballot Bulletin, our weekly newsletter—dropping every Friday afternoon—bringing you the latest updates on election policy. Every week, we track legislative activity, big-picture trends, recent news, and in-depth data from our Election Administration Legislation Tracker.

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