Janie Valentine

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Eight state legislative seats switched parties in special elections last year

Image of donkey and elephant to symbolize the Democratic and Republican parties.

In the 59 state legislative special elections held in 2020, eight seats changed partisan control. Democrats flipped seven seats and Republicans flipped one. 

Between 2010 and 2020, an average of 71 state legislative special elections took place each year. In those 782 elections, 103 seats (13.2%) changed partisan control. Democrats flipped 56 seats, Republicans flipped 41, and independent and third-party candidates flipped six.

2017 had the highest number of flips during this time period, with Democrats flipping 14 seats and Republicans flipping three. This was also the year with the highest net change for Democrats, who gained a net of 11 seats out of 98 special elections. Republicans’ highest net gain was five seats in 2013.

Since 2010, Democrats have gained a net of 12 state legislative seats in special elections, and Republicans have lost a net of 17 seats.

No seats changed partisan control in 2010, when only 30 special elections were held.

The state with the highest number of flips since 2010 is New Hampshire, where 11 seats have changed partisan control. Massachusetts and Connecticut follow with 9 flips each. 

Twenty-five states use special elections to fill state legislative vacancies and four other states (Kansas, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Washington) use special elections in some circumstances. Twenty-seven states held state legislative special elections in 2020. 

Additional Reading:

71 new members of Congress elected in 2020 election

Seventy-one new members were elected to the 117th U.S. Congress on Nov. 3, 2020, or in subsequent runoff elections: nine new senators and 62 new representatives. This includes Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R-La.), who died from complications related to COVID-19 on Dec. 29.

The last race was called on Feb. 8, when the New York Board of Elections voted to certify the results of New York’s 22nd Congressional District election after months of legal challenges.

Five senators — one Democrat and four Republicans — were defeated by candidates of the opposing party. Thirteen members of the U.S. House, all Democrats, were defeated by Republican challengers.

All 435 U.S. House seats and 35 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats were up for election in 2020. In 53 of the 470 seats up for election — four in the Senate and 49 in the House — a non-incumbent was guaranteed to be elected. Republicans held 38 of those seats, Democrats held 14, and a Libertarian held one.

In the Senate, the four open seats were held by three retiring Republicans and one retiring Democrat. In the House, the 49 open seats were held by 35 Republicans, 13 Democrats, and one Libertarian. Thirty-six seats were open because the incumbent did not seek re-election. This included 26 Republicans, nine Democrats, and one Libertarian. Eight seats — held by five Republicans and three Democrats — were open because the incumbent was defeated in a primary or convention. Five seats were vacant, including the one Democratic seat left open by Rep. John Lewis’ (D-Ga.) death and four Republican seats left open by resignations and appointments.

Additional Reading:

Mayoral partisanship control changed in 2020’s elections in seven of the 100 largest cities

Mayoral elections were held in 29 of the 100 largest U.S. cities in 2020. Seven party changes took place as a result of these elections. Five offices held by Republican incumbents and two offices held by Democratic incumbents changed partisan control:

  • Scottsdale, Arizona: Independent David Ortega won the open seat. Incumbent Jim Lane (R) was term-limited.
  • Irvine, California: Democrat Farrah Khan defeated incumbent Christina Shea (R).
  • San Diego, California: Democrat Todd Gloria won the open seat. The incumbent, Kevin Faulconer (R), was term-limited.
  • Stockton, California: Republican Kevin Lincoln II defeated incumbent Michael Tubbs (D).
  • Honolulu, Hawaii: Independent Rick Blangiardi won the open seat. Democratic mayor Kirk Caldwell was term-limited.
  • El Paso, Texas: Democrat Oscar Leeser defeated incumbent Donald Margo (R).
  • Corpus Christi, Texas: Nonpartisan Paulette Guajardo defeated incumbent Joe McComb (R).

In 15 of the 29 cities that held elections in 2020, the incumbent was Republican at the start of 2020. Twelve incumbents were Democratic, one was independent, and one was nonpartisan. Due to the number of seats up for election held by each party, the Republican Party was in a greater position of relative risk than the Democratic Party, when considering the number of mayoral offices each party will hold once mayors elected in 2020 are sworn in. More than half of the cities with Republican mayors at the start of the year held elections in 2020.

Democratic mayors oversaw 64 of the 100 largest cities at the beginning of 2020, 61 at the start of 2019, 63 at the start of 2018, 64 at the beginning of 2017, and 67 at the start of 2016.

In most of the nation’s largest cities, mayoral elections are officially nonpartisan, though many officeholders and candidates are affiliated with political parties. Ballotpedia uses one or more of the following sources to identify each officeholder’s partisan affiliation: (1) direct communication from the officeholder, (2) current or previous candidacy for partisan office, or (3) identification of partisan affiliation by multiple media outlets.

Additional reading:

Nancy Pelosi elected speaker of the House for 117th Congress

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was elected speaker of the House on Sunday with 216 votes. Five Democratic representatives did not vote for her: Jared Golden (D-Maine), Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). Golden voted for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Lamb voted for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Sherrill, Slotkin, and Spanberger voted “present.” All 209 participating Republican representatives cast their votes for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The speaker of the House is elected on the first day the new Congress convenes. If all 435 members vote, a candidate for speaker of the House must receive at least 218 votes to be elected. If not all members vote or some choose to vote “present,” a candidate must receive a majority of support from those participating in the election. Because 427 representatives voted for someone by name, 214 votes were required for the speaker to be elected.

Pelosi is the sixth speaker elected since 1912 (when the House grew to 435 members) without a majority of the full House membership. The previous speakers elected with fewer than 218 votes during this period were:

  1. “Champ” Clark, elected 1917 with 217 votes
  2. Frederick Gillett, elected 1923 with 215 votes
  3. Sam Rayburn, elected 1943 with 217 votes
  4. Newt Gingrich, elected 1997 with 216 votes
  5. John Boehner, elected 2015 with 216 votes.

Pelosi was selected as the Democratic nominee for speaker of the House by a voice vote on November 18, 2020. She was unopposed.

In 2019, Pelosi was elected speaker of the House with 220 votes. That year, 15 Democrats did not vote for her, including the five who did not vote for her in 2021. Five of the fifteen voted for her in 2021, three lost re-election in November 2020, Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) switched parties in December 2019, and the outcome of Anthony Brindisi’s race in New York’s 22nd Congressional District was unclear as of January 3.

Pelosi previously served as House speaker from 2007 to 2010 and became House minority leader after Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 elections. Support for or opposition to Pelosi returning to the speakership was a major issue for Democratic candidates in the 2018 U.S. House elections.

Additional reading:

Democrats gain veto-proof legislative majorities in two states, leaving them with eight to Republicans’ 16

Democrats gained veto-proof state legislative majorities in Delaware and New York in the Nov. 3 elections. This increases the number of state legislatures with a veto-proof majority in both chambers from 22 to 24: 16 held by Republicans and eight held by Democrats. 

Democrats had a veto-proof majority in both states’ lower legislative chambers heading into the election and gained veto-proof majorities in both state senates.

Veto-proof majorities are most important when the other party controls the governorship. This creates more opportunities for legislatures to override gubernatorial vetoes.

Heading into 2020, there were four states where the governor was a member of a different political party than the veto-proof majority: Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Maryland. All but Maryland held legislative elections in 2020. As a result of the 2020 elections, Republicans maintained veto-proof majorities in Kansas and Kentucky, and Democrats maintained their veto-proof majority in Massachusetts. No governorships in these states were up for election in 2020.

Ballotpedia identified five states with state legislative elections in 2020 that had the potential to gain a veto-proof majority of the party opposite the governor: Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Neither party gained a veto-proof majority in any of these state legislatures. 

Forty-four states held regularly-scheduled state legislative elections on Nov 3. At the time of the election, there were 22 state legislatures where one party had a veto-proof majority in both chambers; 16 held by Republicans and six held by Democrats. Twenty of those states held legislative elections in 2020.

Although it has the potential to create conflict, the veto override power is rarely used. According to political scientists Peverill Squire and Gary Moncrief in 2010, only about five percent of vetoes are overridden. 

Additional reading: 

Summary of Nov. 3 state appeals court elections — Democrats win seats in Texas, Republicans gain in North Carolina

Democrats won eight of the 24 seats up this year in Texas’ intermediate appellate courts, all of which were held by Republican judges heading into the election. Republicans made gains in North Carolina, winning all five intermediate appellate court seats up this year, four of which were held by Democratic or Democratic-aligned justices.

The Republican Party had greater partisan risk in this year’s Texas intermediate appellate court elections, defending all 24 seats up. Democratic challengers defeated six Republican incumbents and won two open seats. Republicans won 11 uncontested races. In the 2018 elections, Democratic challengers defeated 19 Republican incumbents. Forty-five seats were up that year.

Democrats had the greater partisan risk in North Carolina this year. The five intermediate appellate court seats up included one held by a Republican, two held by Democrats, and two held by judges who were appointed by a Democratic governor but have not stood for partisan election. Republicans won all five races, defeating both Democratic incumbents and winning both open seats held by appointed judges.

Thirty states held intermediate appellate court elections in 2020. Six states held partisan general elections, 11 states held nonpartisan general elections, and 15 states held retention elections (this figure includes two states that held both partisan and retention elections). There were 201 seats up for election out of 976 seats on intermediate appellate courts nationwide.

Intermediate appellate courts serve as an intermediate step between the trial courts and the courts of last resort in a state. Their jurisdiction varies from state to state.

Additional reading:

Democrats gain veto-proof majority in New York State Senate

Democrats gained a veto-proof majority in the New York State Senate after enough remaining races were called over the weekend to bring them to a two-thirds majority in the chamber. Democrats already held a veto-proof majority in the state Assembly. In New York, two-thirds of members in both chambers must vote to override a veto, which is 100 of the 150 members in the New York State Assembly and 42 of the 63 members in the New York State Senate.

The status of a veto-proof majority has changed in four states as a result of the 2020 elections. These results are subject to change as more votes are counted and elections are certified.

– In Connecticut, Democrats gained a veto-proof majority in the state Senate.

– In Delaware, Democrats maintained a veto-proof majority in the state House and gained a veto-proof majority in the state Senate.

– In Nevada, Democrats lost a veto-proof majority in the state Assembly. 

– In New York, Democrats maintained a veto-proof majority in the state Assembly and gained a veto-proof majority in the state Senate.

The veto override power can play a role in conflicts between state legislatures and governors. Conflict can occur when legislatures vote to override gubernatorial vetoes or in court cases related to vetoes and the override power. Although it has the potential to create conflict, the veto override power is rarely used. According to political scientists Peverill Squire and Gary Moncrief in 2010, only about five percent of vetoes are overridden.

Prior to April 2018, factions in the New York State Senate included the mainline Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and an offshoot of the Democratic Party called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Republicans controlled the chamber from 2012 to 2018 through an alliance with the IDC and Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder. In April 2018, the eight members of the IDC rejoined the mainline Democratic conference, but Felder stayed with the Republicans, giving them an effective 32-31 majority in the chamber. In the November 2018 elections, Democrats expanded their majority to 40-23, giving them full control of the state Senate for the second time since 1964.

Forty-four states held regularly-scheduled state legislative elections on Nov 3. At the time of the election, there were 22 state legislatures where one party had a veto-proof majority in both chambers; 16 held by Republicans and six held by Democrats. Twenty of those states held legislative elections in 2020.

Additional reading:

U.S. House elects leadership for 117th Congress 

Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives held elections for leadership positions in the 117th Congress, which convenes on January 3, 2021. The speaker of the House, who presides over sessions of the chamber and is second in the line of presidential succession, is elected on the first day the new Congress convenes. Other leadership positions are elected in meetings prior to the start of a new Congress.

House Democrats held their leadership elections remotely on November 18. Current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was selected as the Democratic nominee for speaker of the House. She was unopposed. Pelosi was elected speaker of the House on January 3, 2019. She previously served as House speaker from 2007 to 2010 and became House minority leader after Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 elections.  

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was re-elected as majority leader, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) was re-elected as majority whip, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) was re-elected as Democratic Caucus chairman. All three were unopposed. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) defeated Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) 135-92 for the role of assistant speaker, the fourth-ranking position in the House. In the 116th Congress, the position was held by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who was elected to the U.S. Senate.

House Republicans held leadership elections on November 17. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was re-elected as minority leader, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was re-elected as minority whip, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was re-elected as Republican Conference chairman, and Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) was re-elected as Republican Policy Committee chairman. All were unopposed. 

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) was re-elected as National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) chair. The election for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair will be held the week of November 30. Reps. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) announced they would run for the position after Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) said she would not run again.

Additional reading: 

All nine candidates in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District Democratic primary complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Nine candidates are running in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District on September 1, 2020. Incumbent Joe Kennedy (D) is running for election to the U.S. Senate, leaving the 4th District seat open. All nine candidates have completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey.
Ballotpedia asks all federal, state, and local candidates to complete a survey so voters can discover what motivates them on political and personal levels.
Below are excerpts from the candidates’ answers to the survey question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?” (Please note: answers may be edited for length.)
Jake Auchincloss: “First, I will protect our kids and our families. Republicans are obstructing the federal aid we need for public schools. … Second, I will work to ensure that healthcare is available and affordable to all, including our seniors, who are so vulnerable right now. … Finally, I will be a champion for jobs & a green economic recovery.”
Dave Cavell: “I am passionate about ending the opioid crisis, protecting public education, and saving our democracy.”
Becky Grossman: “I’m very passionate about combatting the climate emergency so all of our kids have a chance to live on a planet that isn’t in peril; common-sense gun reform because our country deserves schools and streets free of gun violence; and reducing economic inequality so everyone in my District and across our country has a fair shot at good paying jobs.”
Alan Khazei: “Combating the existential threat of climate change, taking on the NRA to stop gun violence, and revitalizing the American dream through a culture of national service.”
Ihssane Leckey: “As an immigrant, I am passionate about reforming our system to safeguard the rights and dignity of all migrants, and ensuring they are welcome to come to America and thrive here. As someone who lost her father to a stroke after he forwent medication to save money, I am unshakably dedicated to guaranteeing healthcare to all people as a right. As a mom, I must provide a livable planet for my daughter and will do everything in my power to avert the coming climate catastrophe.”
Natalia Linos: “I bring the scientific and health expertise needed to lead what will be a years-long health and economic recovery from this pandemic, as well as over a decade of experience working on some of the other critical issues facing District 4: mental health and the opioid overdose crisis, climate change and environmental protection, creating economic opportunities, and fighting poverty.”
Jesse Mermell: “Jesse fought to make a difference in people’s everyday lives, from potholes and trash pick-up to leading the charge on climate change by banning plastic bags and styrofoam, updating the Town’s climate action plan, and establishing Climate Week to encourage learning and engagement in Brookline around climate change. … In the fight for workers’ rights, increasing the minimum wage, equal pay, earned sick time, equitable investments in transportation, and paid family and medical leave … To fight for women’s rights and our progressive values … she fought for comprehensive sex education in public schools and for the inclusion of birth control and other reproductive health care.”
Ben Sigel: “Healthcare, social and economic justice, climate change, education, economic opportunity, immigration, combating Anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred and bigotry, public health and combating the opioid crisis, criminal justice.”
Chris Zannetos: “As a member of Congress, I would bring my unique experience, skills, and approach to help make the promise of the American Dream a reality for our district’s residents. With much needed expertise in job creation, education activism and tech innovation, and as the only candidate with real-world experience founding and leading technology companies, I have a strong understanding of the demands of the technology-driven economy and have demonstrated a commitment to creative and inclusive educational solutions.”
In 2018, 1,957 candidates completed a Candidate Connection survey. This represents 6.9% of all 28,315 candidates Ballotpedia covered during that cycle. Out of the 1,957 respondents, 477 (24.4%) won their elections.

Nehls defeats Wall in TX-22 Republican primary runoff

Troy Nehls defeated Kathaleen Wall in the Republican primary runoff for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District. Nehls received 70% of the vote to Wall’s 30%.

The Houston Chronicle, SEAL PAC, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Nehls. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), the National Association for Gun Rights, and the Susan B. Anthony List endorsed Wall. According to campaign finance reports, Wall spent $2 million to Nehls’ $98,000 between April 1 and June 24.

Incumbent Pete Olson (R), who was first elected in 2008, did not seek re-election. Since 1979, Republicans have represented the district for all but two years, when Nick Lampson held the seat from 2007 to 2009. In 2018, Olson won re-election 51.4% to 46.5%. Major independent observers rate the 2020 general election as a toss-up or tilt Republican.