There are 99 state legislative chambers in the United States (2 in every state, except Nebraska, which has only 1), comprised of 7,383 legislators. While the US House of Representatives is 54% Democratic / 45% Republican, the combined state legislatures are 52% Republican / 47% Democratic. (This breakdown does not include Nebraska, where legislative elections are technically nonpartisan, but in practice the majority of that legislature is also Republican).
State legislatures are vitally important, both to state and local law, and to the makeup of our federal legislature.
In 2021 every legislative district in the United States will be redrawn, based on the results of the 2020 census. In 31 states, federal congressional districts are drawn by the state legislatures. Via gerrymandering, a Republican state legislature can draw maps in such a way that a greater percentage of federal congressional seats will be held by Republicans than is warranted by the percentage of voters who vote Republican. (Democrats can do this in their favor in states where the legislatures are controlled by Democrats, but the only two states in which that is likely to happen are Illinois and Maryland.)
Since the Supreme Court ruled in June that “the question of partisan gerrymandering was a political one that must be resolved by the elected branches of government, and not a legal question that the federal courts should decide,” voters cannot rely on the Supreme Court to save them from gerrymandered maps, making the partisan makeup of the state legislatures even more important.
State legislatures also wield a great deal of power in determining who gets to vote and how. In 2019, state legislatures in a number of states have been passing bills to expand voting rights. In particular, each of the six states with new Democratic trifectas, “has enacted (or is shortly expected to enact) major pro-voter reforms.” These pro-voter reforms include adding early and absentee voting and same-day voter registration and restoring voting access for individuals released from incarceration.
In contrast, a number of states with Republican trifectas passed laws in 2019 restricting voter rights, including by reducing early and absentee voting and by enforcing stricter voter ID measures.
Winning State Legislative Races
The good news is that there are 538 state legislative seats up for a vote in 2019, and 4,798 state legislative seats up for a vote in 2020.
The bad news is that it’s too late to recruit candidates for the 2019 races, which are only 34 days away, and it’s nearly too late to recruit candidates for some 2020 races. In Texas, where a number of top-target races still do not have a Democratic challenger, the filing deadline is Monday, December 9.
So what can you do?
Run for Office
If you have every considered running for office, now is a great time to take that leap, especially if you live in a state legislative district under Republican control.
There are lots of organizations ready to help you run, including:
- Run For Something — for young progressives
- Emerge America — for Democratic women
- National Democratic Training Committee — for all Democratic candidates
Recruit Someone to Run for Office
If for some reason you can’t run for office, or you live in a district represented by a fantastic Democrat already, you can help recruit someone to run in a red district.
Contest Every Race wants to find Democratic challengers everywhere, and you can help them find and encourage challengers.
Contest Every Race is working to end GOP dominance in rural America by making sure that no Republican runs for office without a fight.
In states like Oklahoma, Democrats don’t run in up to 75% of local elections. The result is lower turnout, which means that congressional and statewide candidates get crushed – even when there are plenty of registered Democrats.
We need to stop letting the GOP run uncontested in rural areas. How? By recruiting hundreds of new candidates in deep-red parts of key swing states, and across in the reddest states too.
Running for office and recruiting and supporting candidates all take money. The cost of a campaign for a state legislative seat can vary widely, depending on the district, but on average it’s lower than the cost of a campaign for a federal congressional seat and certainly much lower than a presidential campaign.
EveryDistrict has identified “the 251 most competitive seats across 16 states, including 112 priority districts in 15 chambers that we can win in 2019 and 2020 to have the largest impact on the balance of power in this country,” and they calculate the cost to be competitive in all 251 seats to be $58 million. That’s a lot of money, but in comparison, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in conjunction with the RNC raised $125 million in the last 3 months alone.
You can donate to individual candidates, to groups of candidates, to programs like Run For Something or Contest Every Race, to groups of organizations, or to your state Democratic Party to be used in state legislative races, but know that your money is desperately needed and will go a long way toward restoring Democracy in this country.
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