The 10 states with the largest percentages of open seats since 2010

Welcome to the Monday, July 24, Brew. 

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

  1. All 10 states with the largest percentages of open seats since 2010 have term limits
  2. Recall election roundup: Wisconsin
  3. Ohio Issue 1 is the 270th proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution since the 1912 constitutional convention

All 10 states with the largest percentages of open seats since 2010 have term limits

On Friday, we told you about the decade-high number of odd-year open legislative districts and statewide offices this year. Today, we’ll take a look at how term limits affect the number of open seats in state legislative elections.

Since 2010, Ballotpedia has covered state legislative elections to 44,639 seats across all 50 states over 13 election cycles.

During that time, 8,404 of those races have been open, meaning no incumbents ran for re-election. That represents 18.8% of all seats up for election between 2010 and 2022. 

Incumbents win re-election nearly 90-95% of the time, so open seats are typically one of the only ways that new officials enter legislatures. More open seats guarantee more newcomers entering legislatures and typically result in more candidates running for office.

The key factor in the number of open seats in a particular state is whether that state has term limits.

All 10 states with the largest percentage of open seats since 2010 have term limits. The remaining six states with term limits all fall in the top 20.

Nebraska tops the list at 39%, meaning around two-fifths of all seats up for election between 2010 and 2022 were open.

But Nebraska, which has a 49-member unicameral legislature, also has the fewest seats up for election at regular intervals, with either 24 or 25. That means any open seat has a larger effect percentage-wise.

Here’s a closer look at the top 10 states:

Of the six remaining states with term limits, North Dakota has the lowest percentage of open seats (19.9%), ranking 19th but still above the national average.

Among states without term limits, New Hampshire has the largest percentage of open seats (25.9%), ranking 13th. 

Maryland, Wyoming, and Wisconsin also land in the top 20 as states without term limits, ranking 17th, 18th, and 20th, respectively.

On the other side of the spectrum, New Jersey has the lowest percentage of open seats (8.9%). There were 640 seats up for election between 2011 and 2021, of which 57 were open, meaning an incumbent was running for re-election for the remaining 583.

Here’s a closer look at the bottom 10 states in terms of open seats:

When it comes to raw totals, New Hampshire—which also has the largest legislature—had the most open seats between 2010 and 2022, with 770, followed by Missouri (376), Maine (358), Michigan (357), and Florida (304). The latter four states all have term limits.

Delaware had the fewest open seats, with 41, followed by Hawaii (56), New Jersey (57), Nebraska (67), and Alaska (69). Only Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature has term limits.

Whether states have term limits can also affect the year-end totals of open seats.

Since 2010, the three election cycles with the smallest percentages of open seats were 2013, 2017, and 2021. In each of those cycles, only New Jersey and Virginia held elections, neither of which has term limits.

The 2012 and 2022 cycles had the largest percentages of open seats, with 22% and 24%, respectively. 

Both cycles were the first following redistricting, which often results in more open contests. Incumbents might choose not to seek re-election because they don’t think they can win under new district lines. Or lines might be redrawn entirely to the point where a new district exists, but no incumbents live there.

Ballotpedia has been collecting data on state legislative open seats since 2010. We will have updated information in August regarding open seats in 2023. 

Click the link below to view our most recent report from the 2022 election cycle.

Keep reading

Recall election roundup: Wisconsin

Let’s go to Wisconsin, where Ballotpedia covered one new recall effort against a local official on July 11. This is the first recall election Ballotpedia has covered in the state this year. 

In Columbia County, voters successfully recalled District 10 Supervisor Adam Hahn. In the election for Hahn’s replacement, which happened at the same time as the recall, Derek Granquist defeated Hanhn 60% to 40%.

According to the Columbia County clerk, the statement of intent to circulate the recall petition listed the following reasons for recalling Hahn: 

“Supervisor Adam Hahn has shown through his voting record, to be acting against the desires of his constituents. Along with his actions, or lack of, in full Board and Committee meetings, there has been additional behavior he has been involved in which is unbecoming of an elected official, such as lack of transparency and political intimidation of a fellow supervisor.”

Hahn said the recall effort reflected opposition to expanding solar power projects in the county. In March, Hahn voted against a resolution asking the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to deny the application of a solar farm project. 

Nationwide, 246 officials were the subject of recall efforts through July 9. Michigan had the most targeted officials, with 81. Recalls targeting 50 officials had made the ballot as of July 9. Michigan again led the field, with 15 officials on the recall ballot.

In 2022, Ballotpedia covered 266 recall efforts against 448 officials in 30 states. Michigan had the most officials targeted for recall, with 133. California followed with 72. From 2016 to 2021, California had the most officials targeted in five of the six years.

In Wisconsin alone, six officials were targeted in 2022. This is less than the 10-year average of 12.

Keep reading 

Ohio Issue 1 is the 270th proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution since the 1912 Constitutional Convention

We’ve written quite a bit lately about Ohio Issue 1, a constitutional amendment we’ve discussed several times over the past few weeks (see here and here, for example). The amendment, on the ballot on Aug. 8., would require a 60% vote threshold (up from a simple majority) and increase the signature distribution requirement for passing future constitutional amendments.

On Friday, we told you about bills or resolutions in other states that would broadly enact similar changes to Issue 1. Today, let’s look into the history of proposed constitutional amendments in Ohio and compare their success rates through the decades.

Issue 1 is the 270th proposed amendment to the state’s constitution since the 1912 constitutional convention. Voters approved 161 (59.85%) of the proposed constitutional amendments between then and 2022, and rejected 108 (40.15%).

In Ohio, constitutional amendments can be proposed in three ways:

  • Legislatively referred constitutional amendment: The General Assembly proposes these amendments, which then require voter ratification. A 60% vote in each legislative chamber is required. Ohio Issue 1 is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. 
  • Initiated constitutional amendment: Citizens can collect signatures to put amendments on the ballot.
  • Constitutional convention: Voters can approve a measure calling a state constitutional convention. Delegates can propose constitutional amendments to voters. The last constitutional convention in Ohio was the 1912 convention.

The decade with the most constitutional amendments on the ballot was the 1910s. Voters decided on 63 amendments during that decade, 42 of which were on the ballot thanks to the 1912 convention. The Legislature referred seven to the ballot, and citizen initiatives accounted for 14. After the 1910s, the decade with the most amendments was the 1970s, with 53 proposed constitutional changes. 

The decade with the least amendments, excluding the 2020s (as we’re just three years in), was the 1940s, when nine amendments were on the ballot—seven from the General Assembly and two that were citizen-initiated.

Issue 1 is not the first amendment that would change the laws governing citizen-initiated constitutional amendments. There have been nine constitutional amendments before voters to change that process in Ohio since 1912. Voters approved five and rejected four. 

If you want to learn more about the history of constitutional amendments in Ohio, check out the story we published on the topic on July 14. And if you want to learn more about other aspects of Issue 1, check out our previous articles on the upcoming vote:

Click the link below to view Ballotpedia’s page on the constitutional amendment.
Keep reading