State Legislature Elections: Little National Press, Big Voter Impact

There are 435 U.S. House and 34 U.S. Senate seats on midterm referendums nationwide with voters also set to elect 36 governors, but these contests will only occupy the top sections of ballots people in most states will see when they go to polls on Nov. 8.

Also on tap will be 133 ballot measures in 37 states and elections for 6,279 of 7,383 state legislature seats across 46 states. 

Amid the sustained shrinkage of local and state media outlets and mushrooming growth of 24/7 cable news networks and digital news sites that near-exclusively focus on national issues and elections, state legislatures garner increasingly less coverage beyond undermanned capitol news bureaus that are often mere shells of their former staffing.

But make no mistake: state lawmakers adopt policies, impose regulations, and issue decisions that have more relevancy and impact in voters’ day-to-day lives than those that come from Congress. 

Police officers on horseback patrol in front of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pa., on Jan. 17, 2021. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Impact on Daily Life

Outside national defense, foreign policy, immigration, and interstate commerce, state legislatures are responsible for nearly everything else that governments deal with.

State lawmakers are the primary decision-makers across an array of concerns, including education, health care, infrastructure, elections, land-use, sales taxes, firearms, and utilities while controlling more than $2 trillion in yearly balanced-budget spending. After June’s U.S. Supreme Court repeal of Roe vs. Wade, that realm of responsibilities now includes regulating abortion access.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said in 1932, state legislatures are the “laboratories of democracy.” On legislatures’ dockets in 2023 will be the annual top three issues—state budget, education, health care—as well as legislation related to marijuana, autonomous vehicles, energy, prescription drugs, data privacy, policing, sports gaming, liquor laws, tax policies, family paid leave, technology, and school choice.

State legislatures can greatly vary in size and scope—unicameral Nebraska has only a 49-member nonpartisan senate while New Hampshire has 400 representatives in its house alone.

Lawmakers in four states—Texas, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada—do not convene in even-numbered years while those in eight—California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio—meet year-round with recesses. Most state legislatures are in session 30-to-90 days a year. 

Yet, state lawmakers are far more prolific than their Congressional counterparts during their breakneck annual legislative sessions. An analysis by Quorum States, a Washington, D.C, bill-tracking service, documents state legislatures introduce 23 times more bills than Congress does annually. The average state lawmaker either sponsors or signs onto 33 bills with about four being adopted each session.

According to Virginia-based MultiState, a state and local government relations and analytic firm, state lawmakers collectively on average introduce nearly 250,000 bills a year, adopting about 30,000 annually.

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View of the Arizona State Capitol building on January 17, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Republicans Dominate

Going into the Nov. 8 elections, of 98 state legislature chambers—Nebraska being the 99th unicameral, nonpartisan body, but certainty Republican in all but name—61 have Republican majorities and 37 are controlled by Democrats. 

Collectively, there are 3,978 GOP state lawmakers constituting 52 percent of the state legislature seats nationwide. Democrats control 47 percent percent of the seats.

Republicans control both chambers in 30 states and Democrats own both senate and house majorities in 17 states. There are 23 states with GOP trifectas, meaning the governor is also from the same party. Democrats have 15 trifectas.

Only three state legislatures are split, with different parties controlling either of the two chambers, and only 12 states do not have unified party control of the senate, house, and governor’s mansion, the second-lowest ratio in 70 years, “a sign that ticket-splitting may be waning nationwide” among voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The senates in Alaska and Minnesota are held by the GOP while the states’ lower chambers are controlled by Democrats. It’s just the opposite in Virginia, which along with Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey, will not have state legislature elections on Nov. 8 ballots. 

Republicans have been ascending in state legislatures for the last 20 years. Democrats have not held a majority of seats nationwide since 2010 when the GOP captured majorities in 24 chambers. Democrats have rebounded slightly since 2016 when Republicans won majorities in a peak 66 chambers.

The Nov. 8 general election will be the first round of state legislative races in the wake of post-2020 Census redistricting.

“Watch for more races between incumbents and contested races where the political geography has changed significantly—particularly in suburban areas,” the NCSL says in its 2022 election preview. “More turnover is a possibility.”

Also, NCSL notes, while there are “several hundred new freshman legislators” elected nationwide in every election, these numbers tend to be higher in the first election after decennial redistricting. “This year,” the NCSL says, “we expect the number to be closer to 1,000, or just under 15 percent of the nationwide total.”

The NCSL rates state legislature races in 21 states to be competitive enough where control of chambers could change hands. Over the last century, an average of 12 chambers change party control in each general election cycle, but the organization notes “that number has declined in recent years.”

That stay-put trend will likely unfold in the midterms. “While individual races may yield some upsets, chamber control is unlikely to change” in many—if any—chambers, NCSL states.

Nevertheless, “Chambers held by Democrats appear to be more competitive than those held by Republicans. That means Republicans have more opportunities to make gains,” it adds.

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People attend a Rally The Vote event at the Michigan State Capitol on July 30, 2022 in Lansing, Michigan. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Most Competitive Statehouse Elections

According to NCSL, partisan control of 12 state senate chambers, including five now held by the GOP, and nine state houses, including five held by Democrats, are up for grabs on Nov. 8. 

Ballotpedia has identified 28 battleground chambers in 19 states, including 16 senates and 12 houses. 

A projection by CNalysis, a state legislature analytic site, forecasts that the GOP will gain up to 147 state legislative seats nationwide, including 41-42 in senates and 102-103 in houses. Here are outlines of projections in key state legislature elections:

ALASKA—All but one state legislature seats are on the ballot. The NCSL rates the Alaska House, which Democrats now control under a power-sharing agreement, as a possible flip. CNalysis projects the GOP could gain up to three house seats, which would give it a majority.

ARIZONA—Allstate legislature seats are on the ballot. The GOP has a 16-14 senate majority and a 31-29 house advantage.

Ballotpedia has identified seven battleground Arizona senate races, three in Democratic-held districts and four in Republican-held districts, and seven battleground House races, three in Republican-held districts, two in Democratic-held districts and two in split districts.

CNalysis offers no projection for Arizona senate races and forecasts Republicans could gain a House seat.

MICHIGAN—All state legislature seats are on the ballot. The GOP has a 22-16 majority in the senate and 56-53 advance in the house.

Ballotpedia has tabbed 10 senate contests as battleground races, four in Democratic-held districts and six in Republican-held districts. It rates 28 house elections as battleground races with 16 in Democratic-held districts and 12 in districts occupied by Republican incumbents.

CNalysis projects Democrats will pick up two to three senate seats and up to two house seats, narrowly missing flipping both chambers.

MINNESOTA—All state legislature seats are on the ballot. Republicans have a 34-31 majority in the Senate. Democrats control the house, 69-64.

Ballotpedia rates 27 senate elections as battleground races, 13 in Democratic-held districts, 13 in GOP-held districts, and one in an independent-held district. There are 42 Ballotpedia battleground house races, 21 in each Democratic-held and Republican-held districts.

CNalysis forecasts no change in the senate but projects Republicans could gain four to five house seats, potentially flipping the chamber.

PENNSYLVANIA—Half of the four-year senate seats and all 203 two-year house seats are on the November ballot. The GOP has a 28-21) senate majority and 113-89 house advantage,

Ballotpedia has identified nine senate battleground races, four in Democratic-held districts, four in Republican-held districts, and one held by an independent. In the house, there are 34 Ballotpedia battleground races, 11 held by Democrats, and 23 by Republicans.

CNalysis projects the GOP could gain a senate seat while Democrats could chip into the Republicans’ house majority by adding up to five seats.

NEW HAMPSHIRE—All state legislature seats are on the ballot. Republicans have 13-10 senate and 206-182 house majorities.

NCSL and Ballotpedia identify the senate as a potential flip with eight senate seats defined as battleground races, including five held by Democrats and three by Republicans.

CNalysis projects no significant changes with the GOP potentially gaining a senate seat

WASHINGTON—There are 25 of 49 four-year senate and all 98 two-year House seats on the Nov. 8 ballot. Democrats hold a 57-41 majority in the house and a 28-21 advantage in the senate.

NCSL and Ballotpedia have identified the senate as competitive with five battleground races in three Democratic-held districts and two Republican-held districts.

CNalysis projects the GOP could gain up to two senate seats

OREGON—There are 16 of 30 four-year senate seats and all 60 two-year House seats on the ballot. Democrats have an 18-11 senate advantage and the house is split, 30-30.

CNalysis projects the GOP could gain up to two senate seats and up to four house seats, potentially gaining control of the chamber.

NEVADA—There are 11 of 21 four-year senate and all 42 two-year House seats on the ballot. Democrats control the senate, 11-9, and house, 26-16.

NCSL and Ballotpedia rate both chamber elections as competitive. Ballotpedia classifies four senate elections as battleground races, two each in Democratic-held and GOP-held districts. There are 16 Ballotpedia battleground house races, 10 in Democratic-held districts and six in Republican-held districts.

CNalysis projects the GOP could gain a senate seat and up to three house seats with the senate potentially flipping.

MAINE—All 35 two-year senate and 151 two-year house seats are on the ballot. Democrats hold 22-13 senate and 76-63 house (three Independents, nine vacancies) advantages.

NCSL and Ballotpedia have identified both chambers as competitive. Ballotpedia rates 20 senate elections as battleground races, including 14 in Democratic-held districts, and 53 house elections as battleground races, including 32 in Democratic-held districts.

CNalysis projects the GOP could gain up to four senate seats, coming close to flipping the chamber, and up to four house seats.


John Haughey has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government, state legislatures, and growth and development. A graduate of the University of Wyoming, he is a Navy veteran who fought fires at sea during three deployments aboard USS Constellation. He’s been a reporter for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida; a staff writer for Manhattan-based business trade publications.

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