by Karl Kurtz
Taken as a whole, and including the full-year's worth of contests to date (runoff elections remain in Lousiana 10 days from now), the odd-year elections were, well, odd. Here is a collection of odd or noteworthy items about the legislative elections in three states, the 27 ballot measures in seven states and the two recall elections:
- It is odd that on the same day that Ohio voters decisively approved a union-backed repeal of restrictions on public employee collective bargaining, they also approved a constitutional amendment aimed at blocking the individual mandate to purchase health care in the Affordable Care Act. Over at Stateline.org, Josh Goodman argues that the outcomes on these two measures, combined with Mississippi's rejection of the personhood initiative, show that "voters rejected dramatic changes in policy." I buy that argument.
- It is odd that the evidence about anti-incumbent effects in this election was contradictory. On the one hand, two incumbents in Arizona and Michigan were decisively recalled, and the GOP defeated enough Democratic incumbents in Virginia and Mississippi to consolidate their hold on one chamber in each state and at least throw the margin of control into doubt in the other. On the other hand, all 37 New Jersey senators and 63 of 64 Assembly members who sought re-election were successful (the one defeated New Jersey incumbent was in a district where three incumbents were running for two seats). In addition, it can be argued that the number of incumbents defeated in the Mississippi House and Senate and Virginia Senate races--two in each chamber--was remarkably low given the fact that there had been no elections of these members for four years. The tumultuous elections of 2008 and 2010 have occurred since the last time that incumbents had to run in the Virginia Senate and the Mississippi House and Senate. Of course, there were different circumstances in each of these instances that help to explain or mitigate the contradictions: the recall elections involved specific policy grievances against the incumbents; unlike the other three chambers, the House elections in Virginia did result in the defeat of eight incumbents--five Democrats and three Republicans; the New Jersey incumbents were buoyed by a deliberately incumbent-friendly redistricting plan.
- It is noteworthy (though far from odd) that a lot of money was spent on the hotly contested races in the chambers in which partisan control was at stake. The two candidates in Virginia Senate district 17--the Reeves-Houck race that remains undecided--spent a combined total of $2 million. The average spending in Virginia Senate races this year was nearly one million dollars. Liz Mathis, the Democrat that won the Iowa special election that could have thrown the Senate into a tie, was outspent two to one by her opponent, Cindy Golding. The two of them together, along with independent advocacy groups, spent more than one million dollars.
- It is odd that in the history of the United States there have been only 32 recall elections of state legislators (see Jennie Drage Bowser's history of recall elections). One third (11) of them took place in 2011. Before 2011 the success rate of recall elections was 62 percent. In 2011, it was 36 percent (four of 11). People who are aggrieved against incumbents are clearly using the recall process more these days, but they are having less success--yesterday's two for two outcome notwithstanding.
- It would really be odd if the elections in just three states yesterday resulted in two more tied chambers. If the Virginia Senate and the Mississippi House were added to the currently tied Alaska Senate and Oregon House, we would have a record number of four tied chambers.
- It would really be noteworthy if the Virginia Senate and the Mississippi House tipped to Republicans. That would mean that Republicans control 20 of the 22 legislative chambers in the 11 states of the Confederacy. Arkansas would be the only Democratic holdout. Across the nation, Republicans would control both chambers in 27 states, a high water mark not achieved since the pre-New Deal election of 1928.
[Edits and non-substantive corrections made, 6:00 p.m., MST]