Contests for control of state legislatures were even more consequential than usual this midterms cycle, with abortion rights and election security policy on the line. Though Republicans still control the majority of state legislatures, as they long have, Democrats have managed to flip control of at least one legislature in a critical battleground, with more wins possibly to come.
As of Friday afternoon, Democrats had successfully flipped both chambers of the Michigan legislature. Minnesota also seems likely to see a chamber flip, with Democrats closing in on a majority in that state’s Senate (Democrats already control the House there). They fell short of flipping either chamber in North Carolina but at least headed off a GOP supermajority in the state’s General Assembly, meaning Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto will continue to be a bulwark against the Republican agenda there.
Other legislatures that Democrats targeted — like the Arizona House and Senate, the Pennsylvania House, and the New Hampshire House and Senate — remain too close to call. Republicans have so far failed to flip any Democrat-controlled state legislative chambers.
Here’s where Democrats have already successfully flipped state legislative chambers or are most likely to do so:
It’s hard to overstate just how big Democrats’ victory in the state legislature is. They haven’t controlled either chamber since 1984 and have essentially averted the doomsday scenarios for abortion rights and election security that they had warned about ahead of Election Day.
Democrats were worried that state Republicans, including those who campaigned on the notion that they would have attempted to subvert the election in 2020, would be well positioned to try to overturn the results in 2024. And they had feared that Republicans would be able to enforce an ultra-restrictive 1931 abortion ban or alternatively pass other restrictions, making it much harder to get an abortion in Michigan.
Democrats essentially neutralized those threats, in part because Michiganders voted to enshrine protections for abortion rights in the state constitution. And given that they also appear on track to win control of the statehouse, according to Associated Press results, and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has won reelection, they are now facing the prospect of trifecta control.
Michigan Democrats are already starting to lay out their agenda, now that it has a real chance of becoming law. They’ve talked about repealing the 1931 abortion ban and the state’s “right to work” law, expanding state civil rights law to cover LGBTQ rights, advancing environmental protections, and eliminating the tax on pension income.
The Minnesota Senate looks likely to flip to Democrats but hasn’t yet been called by the Associated Press. Democrats have already won control of the House, and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz was easily reelected, meaning Minnesota could also be a newfound Democratic trifecta.
That would allow Walz and Democrats in the statehouse to reach an agreement on how to spend a $9.25 billion budget surplus. The divided legislature failed to do so before it adjourned earlier this year, but funding for schools, nursing homes, roads and bridges, and significant tax cuts were on the table. Bonus checks for frontline workers during the pandemic were approved, but they weren’t as big as Democrats wanted. Minnesota Democrats have also proposed new environmental regulations and abortion access policies that may be taken up.
Democrats in Pennsylvania have already claimed that they’ve won a majority in the statehouse, but the Associated Press has yet to call it. If true, it would be an upset; redistricting had made the electoral map more competitive for Democrats, but the Pennsylvania House was rated “lean Republican” ahead of Election Day by Sabato’s Crystal Ball and hasn’t been held by Democrats since 2010.
Should they prevail, Democrats will be able to vote down further restrictions on abortion and funds to health care centers that perform abortions proposed by Republicans. And they will be able to reject a measure that could have gone on the ballot in 2023 to amend the state constitution to declare there is “no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or other right relating to abortion.”
Regardless of the outcome, though, Pennsylvania will have a divided government: Democrat Josh Shapiro won the governor’s race, and Republicans maintained control of the state Senate. That could limit the realm of what’s possible from a policy standpoint.
It will probably be a while longer before we know the results in Arizona. The Arizona Senate was rated a toss-up and the House “lean Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball ahead of Election Day, and races up and down the ticket have been too close to call across the state.
But the outcome could determine the future of elections and abortion rights in the state, which will likely continue to be a major battleground. With contests involving election deniers yet to be determined — including the races for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general — it’s even more critical for Democrats to win control of at least one legislative chamber. As in Michigan, Democrats worried that Republicans could try to subvert the election result in 2024 if they have unified control of government in Arizona.
Arizona’s GOP-controlled state legislature passed legislation earlier this year that banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. But the state also has a 121-year-old total abortion ban on the books, which only has an exception for when the life of the pregnant person is in jeopardy. Both of those bans are currently being challenged in court, and even if they don’t survive, Republicans could enact other restrictions on abortion if they maintain control of the state legislature. A Democratic governor would be able to veto such legislation, given that the GOP will be far from having a supermajority in the legislature.
The New Hampshire House was rated “lean Republican” and was looking like a bit more of a reach for Democrats as of Friday afternoon. With Republican Gov. Chris Sununu winning reelection, Democrats’ role would be as a check on GOP authority if they win the state House, as Republicans are also expected to control the state Senate. But there’s also a possibility that the House could be evenly divided, giving way to a new era of partisanship in the chamber with far-left and -right factions having more sway over legislation.
Democrats have already outlined their agenda of focusing on addressing voter concerns about abortion rights, energy costs, increased property taxes, and public education. They may not have a chance to enact it, however.
Update, November 11, 1:40 pm ET: This story, originally published on November 9, has been updated with the latest results.