States Facing Big Changes with Elections
By Heather Perkins, CSG Membership Data Manager
Voters across the country will hit the polls Nov. 2 to elect new state leaders and voice their opinion on ballot questions. The 2010 midterm elections are filled with key statewide races.
The number of gubernatorial positions on the ballot this year is more than triple the number in 2008. After states held elections for only 11 governors two years ago, voters are now poised to elect 39 governors next month. Of the 39 states and territories electing governors, 25 of those are guaranteed to have new leaders at the helm. Term limits prevented 16 governors from running again, while seven current governors are retiring.
Florida and Nevada will have new leadership for different reasons. In June, Nevada Gov. James Gibbons became the first incumbent governor in the state’s history to lose a re-election bid during a primary. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
In addition to the large number of gubernatorial elections, voters will elect several other executive branch officials—31 lieutenant governors, 26 secretaries of state, 31 attorneys general, 24 state treasurers and 16 state auditors. In 22 states, candidates for lieutenant governor will appear on the ballot jointly with gubernatorial candidates.
Similar to the last election cycle, a large number of state legislative seats are on the ballot. Only four states and two territories—Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Virginia, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico—do not have scheduled legislative elections this year. In all but two states, both senate and house seats are up for grabs. In Kansas and South Carolina, only state house seats will appear on the ballot.
While 1,213 state senate seats and 4,979 state house seats are on this year’s ballots, these numbers don’t accurately represent the number of contested races. A survey by The Council of State Governments found 23 percent of state senate races are unopposed and another 3 percent of the races pit a traditional party candidate against one or more third party candidates. In state house races, 27 percent are uncontested and an additional 5 percent have one traditional party candidate running against one or more third party candidates.
Democrats could lose a significant number of majorities throughout the state legislatures. Democrats have the majority in 29 state senates and 32 state houses. More than one-third of the state legislative chambers are considered to be “in play,” according to recently released information from Governing magazine. Governing predicts Democrats could lose control of four to 12 senate chambers and six to 15 house chambers.
Nearly two-thirds of the states will have at least one supreme court justice position on the ballot. But a majority of those justices will be subject only to retention votes and will not be facing an opponent. Sixteen states with justices on the ballot will be holding elections, and many of those are nonpartisan contests. Only three states with supreme court positions up in November hold partisan general elections: Alabama, Texas and West Virginia.
Very few supreme court elections this year are uncontested. Eleven of the 16 states selecting have multi-candidate races on the ballot. Similar to the 2008 campaign cycle, spending on judicial elections continues to increase. Estimates of airtime spending for judicial campaigns have already passed the $2 million mark, according to the Justice at Stake Campaign and the Brennan Center for Justice.
While it would seem those justices facing retention votes would have nothing to worry about, some justices are facing an uphill battle. In at least two states, groups are targeting justices and encouraging voters to cast a “no” vote for their retention—a clear sign of the increasing partisan tendencies creeping into judicial politics.
In Illinois, Justice Thomas L. Kilbride is facing a retention vote and has already spent an estimated $393,000 on television ads, according to Justice at Stake. Kilbride is facing backlash for a controversial decision last spring that ruled a state law limiting the amount of money doctors and hospitals could be sued for was unconstitutional.
In Iowa, three justices up for retention in November are being met with fierce opposition from special interest groups. Stemming from the state Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to allow same-sex couples to wed, Justices David Baker, Michael Streit and Charles Freeman are up against special interest groups and churches that are spending money and encouraging their congregations to vote against retaining them.
Thirty-six states have at least one initiative, referendum or legislative measure on the ballot—155 total propositions among these states. Among the hot topics for initiatives and referenda: health care, marijuana and taxes.
A few states are offering voters the chance to symbolically vote against the recent federal health care reform by amending their state constitutions. Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma have propositions to change their constitutions to say individuals and businesses may not be required to participate in a health insurance system. Voters in Missouri approved a similar measure in the August primary.
California voters will consider legalization of marijuana, while three states—Arizona, Oregon and South Dakota—have questions regarding the use of medical marijuana.
Voters in several states will decide on ballot propositions about taxes. Iowa, for instance, has a measure to increase the state sales tax, Massachusetts voters will consider decreasing the state sales tax, while Washington will be voting on the establishment of a state sales tax. Property tax exemptions for various groups of people are also on the ballot in eight states.