Contested legislative races
When they go to the polls this November, two-thirds of Massachusetts voters will see only one candidate for state representative on the ballot. Only South Carolina has less competition for seats in the lower legislativebody, the one designed to be closest to the people. Massachusetts also stands out in potential for a par-tisan reversal of fortune. Only here and in Arkansas is it mathematically impossible for party control to change hands in the lower legislative house in November.
No definitive reason for inactivity can be found in legislative structure or partisan dominance. Size of legislative body, for instance, doesn’t account for differences in competitive vigor. New Hampshire’s 400-seat House of Representatives is relatively competitive, while more than half of Alaska’s 40 House seats have been ceded by one of the major parties. Party dominance doesn’t tell the tale either. Democrats hold less than one-seventh of the seats in the Idaho House, but they’ve still managed to run candidates for more than two-thirds of that body’s seats this year.
Perhaps it’s a combination of those factors that explains the Bay State’s electoral torpor: We have the fourth-largest House of Representatives in the country and the third-most-lopsided in terms of party affiliation (slightly behind Republican Idaho and Democratic Rhode Island). Then again, Connecticut and Maryland have lower bodies that are almost as big and almost as Democratic, and they each have twice the proportion of seats sought by candidates from both major parties.
In judging competition for House seats, we didn’t consider independent or third-party candidates because, so far, their success rate at winning state legislative seats is negligible. But it’s worth noting that the Libertarian Party did something this year in Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina that the Republican Party couldn’t do in Massachusetts: field candidates for more than half of the House seats up for grabs.
Two-Party Competition for Legislative Seats (Lower House)
|Rank||State||Size of Lower Body||Share of Seats Held By Majority Party||Seats Contested By Both Major Parties, 2002|
|3.||NEW JERSEY*||80||55% D||94%|
|4.||NORTH DAKOTA**||94*||73% R||90%|
|15.||NEW YORK||150||65% D||71%|
|19.||SOUTH DAKOTA||70||71% R||67%|
|20.||NEW HAMPSHIRE||400||63% R||65%|
|20.||WEST VIRGINIA||100||75% D||65%|
|31.||NORTH CAROLINA||120||52% D||52%|
|37.||RHODE ISLAND***||75||85% D||48%|
|44.||NEW MEXICO||70||59% D||41%|
|50.||SOUTH CAROLINA||124||57% R||28%|
* New Jersey and Virginia elect state legislators elected in odd-numbered years; “contested” figure is from 2001. Louisiana and Mississippi elect state legislators every four years; “contested” figure is from 1999. Candidates for Nebraska’s unicameral legislature are listed without party affil-iation, and Louisiana does not hold partisan elections, instead requiring all candidates to run in the same primary and run-off elections regard-less of party affiliation. For these states, the “contested” figure includes any race with more than one candidate.
** North Dakota Assembly members serve four-year terms; the “contested” figure applies only to the 49 seats up for election this year.*** The Rhode Island House will be reduced from 100 to 75 members upon the results of the 2002 election.
Sources:Partisan make-up is from the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org) as of September 5, 2002. Percentages of unopposed seats are from the secretary of state’s office, or the equivalent agency, in each state.