Welcome to the Thursday, October 26, Brew.
By: Dave Beaudoin
Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:
- The 15 battleground districts that will decide Virginia’s legislative elections
- Courts issue rulings on congressional district maps in Alabama, Louisiana
- Our latest On the Ballot episode features University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald
The 15 battleground districts that will decide Virginia’s legislative elections
Virginia will hold elections for the House of Delegates and Senate in less than two weeks. It is one of four states that conducts legislative elections in odd-numbered years, along with Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey.
Heading into the election, Republicans have a 48-46 majority—with six vacancies—in the House of Delegates, while Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the Senate. With each party controlling one chamber and Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor, Virginia has a divided government. Virginia is one of two states—along with Pennsylvania—where one party controls one legislative chamber each.
If Republicans maintain control of the House and win control of the Senate, Virginia would become a Republican trifecta. If Democrats win control of either chamber, the state would remain a divided government. Virginia’s next gubernatorial election is in 2025.
U.S. News & World Report‘s Louis Jacobson wrote, “Enough seats are competitive that just about any combination – a GOP Senate takeover, a Democratic Senate hold or a Democratic flip of the House – is conceivable. To gain Senate control, the GOP would need to flip two Democratic-held seats, forcing a 20-20 tie that would be broken by Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears.”
The 2023 elections are the state’s first using district boundaries enacted after the 2020 census. The Virginia Supreme Court unanimously approved district maps for both chambers in December 2021. Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 establishing a commission-driven legislative redistricting process. However, the state supreme court assumed authority over the process after the Virginia Redistricting Commission did not produce final state legislative maps by its Oct. 24, 2021 deadline.
Democratic candidates have focused on abortion rights, while Republican messaging includes tax cuts, job creation, and parental rights in schools.
Ballotpedia has identified 15 battleground elections across both chambers—seven in the House of Delegates and eight in the Senate. In the House races, incumbents are running in two districts, while the other five are open districts, meaning no incumbents are running. Incumbents are running in four of the eight Senate battleground contests, and the other four are open districts. Click here to read more about the battleground districts in the House of Delegates and here to read about our Senate battlegrounds.
The Virginia Public Access Project’s analysis of early voting showed that five of the seven Ballotpedia-identified House battlegrounds are among the 13 districts with the most early votes cast through Oct. 23. That same breakdown showed seven of the eight Ballotpedia-identified Senate battlegrounds are among the 10 districts with the most early ballots cast. In-person early voting continues through Nov. 4.
As of October 2023, the States Project, funded by The PAC for America’s Future, had spent at least $4.5 million on Democratic legislative candidates. The Spirit of Virginia, Gov. Youngkin’s PAC, had $7 million cash on hand. Dean Mirshahi at WRIC-TV in Richmond, Virginia, reported that Youngkin’s PAC had transferred millions to Republican legislative candidates.
Fifty-four of the 100 House districts up for election are contested. Forty-six are uncontested. Democrats are guaranteed to win 33 of the 46 uncontested districts, while Republicans are guaranteed 13.
Courts issue rulings on congressional district maps in Alabama, Louisiana
It’s been several weeks since we last brought you the latest developments in redistricting here in the Brew. Here’s a look at recent redistricting stories from Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina that illustrate the legal and political stakes at play as we approach the 2024 elections.
On Oct. 5, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama approved a new congressional district map for the state. Alabama will use these boundaries starting with the 2024 elections. The map created a second district where Black voters comprise 48.7% of the voting-age population.
In its decision, the court wrote, “This plan satisfies all constitutional and statutory requirements while hewing as closely as reasonably possible to the Alabama legislature’s 2023 Plan.” On Sept. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state’s request to use the district boundaries the U.S. district court overturned. SCOTUS had ruled 5-4 on June 8 that the state’s congressional redistricting plan adopted on Nov. 4, 2021, violated the Voting Rights Act and required the state to redraw it to include a second majority-Black district.
On Oct. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to pause and reverse a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Louisiana’s congressional district boundaries. The Fifth Circuit had blocked a hearing in early October before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, which held in June 2022 that Louisiana’s congressional district map should include an additional majority-minority district. The U.S. district court will hold hearings on revised congressional district boundaries in February 2024.
On Oct. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, a case concerning a challenge to the congressional redistricting plan the South Carolina Legislature enacted after the 2020 census. In January, the legislature appealed a federal three-judge panel’s ruling that the 1st Congressional District violated the Voting Rights Act. The court said race motivated lawmakers when they drew the district’s boundaries.
Our latest On the Ballot episode features University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald
In the latest episode of On the Ballot, our host, Victoria Rose, talks to University of Florida professor Michael McDonald about his latest book, From Pandemic to Insurrection: Voting in the 2020 US Presidential Election.
McDonald is an expert on voter turnout and redistricting and leads U-F’s Election Lab, which analyzes survey and election data to better inform people about how our electoral system works. His latest book describes voting in the 2020 election, from the presidential nomination to new voting laws post-election.
McDonald discusses his career, the type of data he collects and maintains on the Election Lab site, his book about the last presidential election, and his thoughts about this year’s upcoming elections.
To listen to this week’s episode in full and many others, click the link below!
New episodes of On the Ballot drop every Thursday afternoon, so don’t forget to subscribe to catch our next one!