Tagpartisanship

March 2021 partisan composition of state legislative seats — 54.3% Republicans and 44.9% Democrats

According to March’s partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 54.27% of all state legislators are Republicans, and 44.91% are Democrats.

Ballotpedia tallies the partisan balance of state legislatures, or which political party holds the majority of the seats in each chamber, at the end of every month. Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats control 37. One chamber (Alaska’s state House) has a power-sharing agreement between the two parties.

Republicans held 1,089 of the 1,972 total state senate seats—up five seats from February—and 2,918 of the total 5,411 state house seats—up one seat from last month. Democrats held 869 state senate seats (up three seats) and 2,447 state house seats (down two seats). Independent or third-party legislators held 38 seats. There were 22 vacant seats.

In March, Democrats saw a net increase of one seat, while Republicans saw a net increase of five seats. Compared to March 2020, Democrats have lost five state Senate seats (874 v. 869) and 139 state House seats (2,586 v. 2,447). Republicans have gained four state Senate seats (1,085 v 1,089) and 139 state House seats (2,779 v 2,918). 

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Minnesota GOP to elect new chair in April

Last week, we brought you a story about conflicts within the Democratic Party of Nevada. Today, we turn to a similar event in Minnesota, where two party leaders are engaged in a race for party chair.

In April, the Republican Party of Minnesota will hold an election for party chair. Two-term incumbent Jennifer Carnahan is seeking a third term against state Senator Mark Koran (R). Approximately 340 party members from around the state will meet in a virtual convention to vote for the next chair. These party members were selected at 121 local conventions, also known as basic political operating units (BPOUs), 60 of which were directly managed by Carnahan and state party staffers. Koran has alleged that this constitutes a conflict of interest: “It’s a massive conflict of interest. Free, fair, open and transparent elections have to be the basic foundation of what we do. If you have distrust in the process, it’s difficult to get people to accept the results of those conventions.” Carnahan has denied the allegation: “There was no impropriety. … The real conflict of interest here is [Koran] trying to serve in the state Legislature and trying to run the party at the same time.”

Joe Witthuhn, a party member and Carnahan supporter who helped conduct some BPOUs, said, “If I thought she rigged even one individual vote, I would not support her anymore.” Nathan Raddatz, a party member and Koran supporter said, “The best thing would have been to pull the party out of this and let the individual districts hire somebody, to alleviate accusations of a party and the current chair rigging the election.”

The Star Tribune has described the race for chair as a crucial event in shaping the party’s prospects heading into 2022: “Whoever wins the party leadership race in April will have to immediately focus on 2022, when the governor’s office will be on the ballot, along with all 201 legislative seats. DFL Gov. Tim Walz is expected to run for a second term, but no front runner has emerged on the GOP side.”

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Candidates backed by Democratic Socialists of America sweep Nevada Democratic Party leadership elections; professional party staff subsequently resign

On March 6, 2021, the Democratic Party of Nevada conducted elections for its five leadership positions. Candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America won all five posts: Judith Whitmer as chairwoman, Jacob Allen as first vice chairman, Zaffar Iqbal as second vice chairman, Ahmad Ade as secretary, and Howard Beckerman as treasurer. Shortly thereafter, the party’s executive director, Alana Mounce, informed Whitmer that she and the remaining staff and consultants were resigning their positions.

Whitmer said, “People should not be afraid of change. A lot of people are concerned when there’s any shift or perceived threat to the status quo. But it’s time. It’s time to move in a more progressive direction if we’re going to get people to turn out to vote.” According to The Intercept, an anonymous staffer said, “I knew I couldn’t work for [Whitmer] and watch her destroy the years of hard work so many operatives put into making our state party the best state party in the country.”

Commentators framed the results of the leadership election, and the subsequent staff resignations, as a reflection of a broader conflict between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party, both in Nevada and throughout the nation. Matt Viser, writing for The Washington Post, said, “At a minimum, the discord is expected to lead longtime allies of Harry M. Reid, the former Senate majority leader and the state’s most important political power broker, to build a political organization outside the state party structure. And it is fueling excitement among liberals nationwide who are pressing to increase the federal minimum wage, expand health coverage and combat climate change.” Sam Dorman, writing for Fox News, offered a similar interpretation: “The incident reflected longstanding tension within the party, which has seen conflict between more establishment members like Hillary Clinton and progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who identifies as a Democratic socialist.”

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Michigan/Ohio Judicial Selection Method yields most visible partisanship

The Michigan-Ohio method of judicial selection manifests the most signs of partisanship out of any of the eight methods used across state supreme courts, according to Ballotpedia’s recently-published study on state supreme courts.

There are three broad categories of state supreme court selection: Assisted Appointment, Direct Appointment, and Election. Within these three broad categories, there are eight ways of administering selection among the states. We classify them with the following subcategories:

• Assisted Appointment

◦ Assisted Appointment through Bar-Controlled Commission

◦ Assisted Appointment through Governor-Controlled Commission

◦ Assisted Appointment through Hybrid Commission

• Direct Appointment

◦ Direct Gubernatorial Appointment

◦ Direct Legislative Appointment

• Election

◦ Michigan-Ohio Method

◦ Partisan Election

◦ Nonpartisan Election

The Michigan-Ohio method selects justices through nonpartisan elections preceded by a partisan primary or convention. In these states, partisan primaries are held to determine judicial nominees, and the winners of each primary compete in a nonpartisan election for ultimate selection to the court. Only Michigan and Ohio use this method of judicial selection.

The Pure Partisanship Score attempts to show our total confidence in partisan affiliations on a court. Selection methods with a lower Pure Partisan Score have, on average, justices with lower Confidence Scores, without consideration of the specific party for which there is evidence of their party affiliation.

Of all selection methods, the Michigan-Ohio method produced justices with the highest Pure Partisanship Score, on average. Whereas the average Pure Partisanship Score for justices nationally is 7, justices in Michigan and Ohio record an average Pure Partisanship Score of 11. Of the 14 justices across both states’ supreme courts, four (all in Michigan) were selected by the governor to fill vacancies. Not including the scores for the four justices appointed to fill vacancies, the Michigan-Ohio method records an average Pure Partisanship Score of 10.3.

The method of selection which accounts for the second-highest average Pure Partisanship Score is Partisan Election, which records a score of 9.8. Seven states use this method: Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

The method of selection that accounts for the third-highest average Pure Partisan Score is Nonpartisan Election, which records a score of 6.4. This method is used by 13 states: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

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Direct Legislative Appointment method produces the lowest average partisanship confidence score for state supreme court justices according to the Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship study. 

Direct legislative appointment yields the lowest average partisan confidence score for state supreme court justices of any method, according to the Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship study. The Michigan-Ohio method produced the highest average partisan confidence score of 11 for all justices, while the direct legislative appointment method produced an average partisan confidence score of 5 for its justices.  

In addition to recording the lowest average partisan confidence score for justices, the direct legislative appointment method produced a court balance score of 3.7. The court balance score recorded for direct legislative appointment was the fifth-highest across the eight selection methods. We arrived at a court balance score by finding the average of partisan confidence scores while accounting for the differences between Democrats and Republicans, whereas the average score, also referred to as the pure partisanship score, is the average of all scores without regard to the differences between Democrats and Republicans. 

Although the direct legislative appointment method produced a low average partisanship score for its justices, this could be due to the fact that it is used in fewer states than other methods. Only South Carolina and Virginia use direct legislative appointment.

South Carolina has four justices with mild Republican affiliation and one justice with indeterminate partisan affiliation. The court balance score for South Carolina is 4.2, mildly Republican. The pure partisanship score for South Carolina’s justices is 4.6, compared to the national average of 7.

Virginia has one justice with strong Republican affiliation, three justices with mild Republican affiliation, one justice with mild Democratic affiliation, and two justices with indeterminate partisan affiliation. The court balance score for Virginia is 3.3, mildly Republican. The pure partisanship score for Virginia’s justices is 5.3, compared to the national average of 7.

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February 2021 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 54.21% Republicans, 44.90% Democrats

According to Ballotpedia’s February partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 54.21% of all state legislators are Republicans and 44.90% are Democrats.

Ballotpedia tallies the partisan balance of state legislatures at the end of every month. This refers to which political party holds the majority of seats in each chamber. Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats hold 37. The Alaska House of Representatives is the only chamber organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition.

Nationally, the state legislatures include 1,951 state senators and 5,366 state representatives. Democrats hold 866 state Senate seats—gaining two since January—and 2,449 state House seats, an increase of one. Republicans hold 4,002 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—1,085 state Senate seats (down four since January) and 2,917 state House seats, a decrease of one. Independent or third-party legislators hold 37 seats, of which 30 are state House seats and seven state Senate seats. There are 29 vacant seats.

During the month of February, Democrats saw a net increase of three seats, while Republicans saw a net decrease of five seats. Compared to February 2020, Democrats have lost eight state Senate seats (874 v. 866) and 132 state House seats (2,581 v. 2,449). For Republicans, they have gained one state Senate seat (1,084 v 1,085) and 142 state House seats (2,775 v 2,917).  

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Breaking down partisanship on the New Jersey Supreme Court

A recent Ballotpedia study on state supreme courts revealed that of the seven justices on the New Jersey Supreme Court as of June 2020:

  1. Two justices had some level of affiliation with the Democratic party
  2. Four justices had a Republican affiliation
  3. One justice had an indeterminate partisan affiliation.

In “Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship”, we gathered a variety of data on 341 active state supreme court justices across the 50 states in order to understand their partisan affiliations. Based on this research, we placed each justice into one of five categories indicating our confidence in their affiliations with either the Democratic or Republican Parties. These categories are:

  1. Strong Democratic
  2. Mild Democratic
  3. Indeterminate
  4. Mild Republican
  5. Strong Republican

Our confidence measure shows that in 2020, there were two Mild Democrats on the New Jersey Supreme Court (Justices Stuart Rabner and Barry Albin), four Mild Republicans (Justices Lee Solomon, Anne Patterson, Jaynee LaVecchia, and Faustino Fernandez-Vina), and one Indeterminate justice (Justice Timpone). Justice Timpone retired on August 31, 2020, 10 weeks before his mandatory retirement date of November 10, to allow his replacement, Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis, to join the bench for the September court session. As our study concluded in June 2020, we did not include Justice Pierre-Louis in our research.

New Jersey has informal, but no constitutional rules which mandate a partisan balance on the state supreme court. The National Center for State Courts describes New Jersey’s informal process of ensuring partisan balance on its state supreme court as follows:

“New Jersey’s courts also have a tradition of political balance. Governors, regardless of their party affiliation, have generally followed a policy of replacing outgoing judges with someone of the same party or philosophy. On the supreme court, the traditional balance is three Democrats and three Republicans, with the chief justice belonging to the party of the appointing governor.”

The state of New Jersey has two rules governing judicial appointments: one written, one unwritten. The written law requires that justices are subject to reappointment by the governor and reconfirmation by the legislature after an initial seven-year term. The unwritten rule is that the governor of the state of New Jersey is to appoint justices in a way that alternates the party of the justice each time he receives the opportunity to appoint a new justice to the court to ensure partisan balance on the court.

While John Corzine (D) was governor of New Jersey, he appointed two justices to the court, Helen Hoens and Stuart Rabner. One of his nominees, Stuart Rabner, was Gov. Corzine’s chief legal counsel and the attorney general for the state of New Jersey. Gov. Corzine also reappointed two Republican-leaning justices nominated to the bench by Governor Christine Todd Whitman (R) and one Democratic-leaning justice appointed to the bench by Governor James McGreevey (D).

Governor Chris Christie (R) broke the precedent in attempting to appoint another Republican-leaning justice to the state supreme court without first reappointing Justice Rabner. Gov. Christie also did not reappoint Helen Hoens, who was first appointed by Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and stated that he did so because he knew the Senate would reject her nomination. Justice Hoens is only the second justice in the history of New Jersey to sit on the court and not receive renomination after her second term. The only previous justice not to receive renomination was Justice John E. Wallace, a Gov. James McGreevey (D) appointment who Gov. Christie also did not renominate.

Gov. Christie’s Republican appointments recorded lower partisan Confidence Scores than the justices appointed by Whitman and Corzine. This means that, according to our data, Christie’s appointments were less partisan in their affiliations than the other New Jersey governors with appointments to the court. Christie’s appointments record an average Pure Partisan Score of 4.5. Whitman’s justices register an average Pure Partisan Score of 7. Corzine’s justices register an average Pure Partisan Score of 9. McGreevey’s justices record an average Pure Partisan Score of 7.

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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. 

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Arkansas state Senator Jim Hendren leaves Republican Party, becomes an independent

On Feb. 18, Arkansas state Senator Jim Hendren announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. According to a statement issued by his organization, Common Ground AR, Hendren said, “This comes after many sleepless nights; a lot of serious consideration; and it comes with sadness and disappointment. But it’s clear-eyed. I’m making this decision because my commitment to our state and our country is greater than loyalty to any political party.”

Hendren was first elected to the Arkansas state Senate District 2 as a Republican on Nov. 6, 2012. He was an at-large delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention from Arkansas, and was one of nine delegates from Arkansas bound by state party rules to support Marco Rubio at the convention. Hendren also served as state Senate president pro tempore from 2019 to 2021. 

As of Feb. 19, six current or former officeholders have switched parties in 2021. Brian Boquist (I-Oregon), Phelps Anderson (I-New Mexico), and Hendren switched from Republican to independent, Vernon Jones (R-Georgia) switched from Democratic to Republican, and Aaron Coleman (D-Kansas) and Brittney Barreras (D-New Mexico) switched from independent to Democratic (Coleman briefly left the Democratic Party to become an independent in January 2021 before switching back at the end of the month). Of the six, two are members of state Senates (Boquist and Hendren), three are members of state Houses (Coleman, Barreras, and Anderson), and one was a member of a state House (Vernon Jones). 

The map below shows the number of party switches by state. The most party switches took place in Mississippi, which had 15 state legislators switch parties since 1994. Thirteen Democrats switched to the Republican party and two Democrats became independents.

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Analyzing partisan splits in states holding U.S. Senate elections in 2022

Thirty-four Senate seats are up for election on November 8, 2022. Republicans currently hold 20 and Democrats hold 14. 

For seats up for election next year, we look at party differences between the current Senate incumbent and their state’s other senator, their state’s governor, and their state’s 2020 presidential winner.

Split Senate delegations

Seven states have senators from different parties in the 117th Senate: Maine, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. This is the fewest number of states with split Senate delegations in history, according to Eric Ostermeier of the University of Minnesota.

Four of the seven states with split delegations in 2021 have Senate seats up for election in 2022. Vermont has one Democratic senator and one independent senator who caucuses with Democrats, so three states with seats up for election have senators in different caucuses: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In all three, the seats up for election in 2022 are currently held by Republicans.

Senator’s vs. governor’s party

Eleven seats up for election are currently held by a senator of a different party than the state’s governor. Six seats held by Republican senators in states with Democratic governors are up. Five seats held by Democratic senators in states with Republican governors are up.

States won by presidential candidate of a different party

Democrats are not defending any Senate seats in states Donald Trump won in the 2020 presidential election. Republicans are defending two Senate seats in states Joe Biden won: Pennsylvania (held by Sen. Pat Toomey) and Wisconsin (held by Sen. Ron Johnson).

• In Pennsylvania, Biden defeated Trump (R) 50.0%-48.8%.

• In Wisconsin, Biden defeated Trump 49.5%-48.8%.

For additional information on the 2022 Senate elections, including outside race ratings and a full list of seats up for election, click below.

https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Senate_elections,_2022

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