State Legislative Tracker: Primary season is over, on to the general election!

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September 17, 2012

Edited by Greg Janetka
This week's tracker features a partisan count update and recap of this year's primary season.

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Weekly highlight

The 2012 primary season came to an end last Thursday when New York voters went to the polls to make their choices known. The first primary of the year took place in Ohio over six months ago. Between then and September 13 a total of 44 states held primaries for 6,015 of the country's 7,383 state legislative seats.

According to Louis Jacobson of Governing Magazine, the percent of state legislative turnover from an election was between 14.4 percent and 21.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. However, during the year of redistricting in 2002, that figure jumped to 24 percent. In 2010, the turnover rate was just below 24 percent, as the GOP boom created a higher than normal exodus of legislators. Because 2012 was another redistricting year, the rate of turnover was expected to once again be higher than usual.[1]

Redistricting, among other factors, led to the defeat of 197 incumbents in the 2012 legislative primaries - 123 Republicans and 74 Democrats. Four states saw their number of incumbents defeated hit the double-digit mark: New Hampshire - 22, Kansas - 20, Georgia - 12, Tennessee - 12. Six states, meanwhile, saw no incumbents defeated - California, Indiana, Maine, Nebraska, Vermont and Washington. It should be noted that two of these states - California and Washington - use a blanket primary, where all candidates for a seat compete in a single primary with the two candidates receiving the most votes advancing to the general election.

Term limits will also play a role in legislative turnover. Altogether, 248 current state legislators - 79 senators and 169 representatives - will have to leave office after the November elections because of term limits. This is 13.89% of the 1,786 state legislative seats up for election in the 14 term-limited states with 2012 elections, and about 4% of the 6,015 state legislative seats that will be up for election altogether in 2012, including the non-term-limited states.

Between incumbents defeated in primaries and term-limited lawmakers, at least 445 state legislative seats will change hands. Additionally, 947 legislators not subject to term limits chose to retire rather than seek another term. Thus, a minimum of 1,392 new officials will take office following the general election on November 6, 2012.


As of today, September 17, 2012, the following figures represent the cumulative partisan breakdown of the 50 state senates and 49 state houses. In the 50 states, Republicans currently control 53.5% of all seats while Democrats hold 44.7%. All told, Republicans control 58 chambers while Democrats are the majority in 37 chambers. Three chambers are tied, while one is nonpartisan.

The totals represent a loss of 11 Republican and 5 Democratic legislators from the August 13 Tracker.

Representation in 50 State Legislatures
Party Number of Percentage
Democratic state legislators 3,300 44.7%
Republican state legislators 3,950 53.5%
Independent state legislators 71 0.96%
Third party (and non-voting) legislators 12 0.16%
Vacancies 32 0.43%

State Senates

The partisan composition of state senates refers to which political party holds the majority of seats in the state senate. Altogether, in the 50 state senates, there are 1,971 state senators.

As of September 17, 2012, the breakdown of chamber control by party is as follows:

See also: Partisan composition of state houses

Cumulative numbers

As of April 6, 2015, 1,911 state senators are affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. This total is updated monthly.

Party Number Percentage
Democratic state senators 825 41.7%
Republican state senators 1,086 54.9%
Nonpartisan state senators 49 2.47%
Independent state senators 2 0.10%
Third party state senators 1 0.05%
Vacancies 13 0.65%


There are 9 state senate vacancies in 8 states as of September 17, 2012.

State Vacancies
California 1
Kentucky 1
Massachusetts 1
Mississippi 1
Montana 1
Nevada 2
Virginia 1
Wisconsin 1


There are 6 state senators in 5 states identifying as independents or parties other than Democratic and Representative as of September 17, 2012. They are as follows:

State Independents/Third Party
Alabama 1 (Independent)
Kentucky 1 (Independent)
Maine 1 (Independent)
Rhode Island 1 (Independent)
Vermont 2 (Vermont Progressive Party)

State Houses

The partisan composition of state houses refers to which party holds the majority of seats in the state house or the lower level of each state legislature. Altogether, in the 49 state houses, there are 5,413 state representatives.

As of September 17, 2012, the breakdown of chamber control by party is as follows:

  • Democratic Party 18 chambers
  • Republican Party 30 chambers
  • Purple.png 1 chamber (Oregon)

Cumulative numbers

As of April 6, 2015, 5,367 state representatives are affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. This total is updated monthly.

Party Number Percentage
Democratic state representatives 2,345 43.3%
Republican state representatives 3,022 55.9%
Independent state representatives 18 0.33%
Third party representatives 6 0.11%
Vacancies 15 0.277%


There are 23 state house vacancies in 17 different states as of September 17, 2012. They are as follows:

State Vacancies
Alabama 1
Arkansas 1
Florida 1
Georgia 2
Hawaii 1
Iowa 1
Kentucky 1
Maine 2
Minnesota 1
New Hampshire 2
New York 1
North Carolina 1
Oklahoma 2
Pennsylvania 3
Texas 1
Vermont 1
Wisconsin 1


There are 28 state representatives in 13 states identifying as independents or parties other than Democratic and Representative as of September 17, 2012. They are as follows:

State Independents/Third Party
Arizona 1 (Independent)
Georgia 1 (Independent)
Louisiana 2 (Independent)
Maine 4 (3 non-voting Native American representatives, 1 Independent)
Missouri 4 (Independent)
New Hampshire 2 (Independent)
New Mexico 1 (Independent)
New York 1 (Independence Party of New York)
South Dakota 1 (Independent)
Tennessee 1 (Carter County Republican)
Vermont 8 (5 Vermont Progressive Party, 3 Independent)
Virginia 1 (Independent)
Wisconsin 1 (Independent)

This week 3 out of 50 state legislatures - Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio - are meeting in regular session, while Massachusetts is meeting in informal session, which it will continue to do throughout the rest of the year. As of May 16, all states had convened their 2012 sessions.

Forty states have adjourned for the year, while four states - Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas - were not scheduled to hold regular sessions in 2012.

Current sessions capture for the week of September 17, 2012

Regular sessions

See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions
Click here to see a chart of each state's 2012 session information.

Although most states have concluded 2012 business, some states have already begun 2013 action. Drafting for 2013 has begun in Montana and North Dakota, while prefiling of legislation is going on in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia.[2]

Special sessions

Snapshot of State Legislatures:
Monday, September 17, 2012
There are 7,383 Total State Legislators
Total Democratic state legislators 3,300 (44.7%)
Total Republican state legislators 3,950 (53.5%)
There are 99 Total State Legislative Chambers
Total Democratic Party-controlled chambers 37
Total Republican Party-controlled chambers 58
Total tied or nonpartisan chambers 4
2012 Session Information
Total Special Elections 32
Total Special Sessions 20

In 2011, special sessions were a widespread occurrence in state legislatures. This was largely due to states' having to complete the redistricting process for legislative and congressional districts. Overall in 2011, there were 45 special sessions in 28 states.

Since the beginning of 2012, there have been 20 special sessions in 16 states. There are no special sessions currently scheduled.


Missouri state legislators met last week in special session to consider overriding vetoes by Gov. Jay Nixon (D). They looked at two main bills vetoed by the governor: a bill that would have allowed employers the choice to not cover contraception, abortion and sterilization if it was against their religious or moral beliefs, and a bill allowing local governments to collect use taxes on out-of-state auto sales.[3]

Legislators voted to override Nixon's veto on the contraception bill, which was called a "religious liberty bill," by a vote of 26-6 in the Senate and 109-45 in the House.[4] Meanwhile, legislators did not have the votes to override the use tax bill veto.[5]

In recess

As of today, September 17, 5 state's sessions are currently in recess:

  • California - In recess from September 1, 2012 to November 29, 2012.[6]
  • Illinois - In recess from August 17, 2012 to November 27, 2012.[7]
  • New York - In recess from June 22, 2012 to January 7, 2013.[6]
  • Pennsylvania - In recess from July 3, 2012 to September 23, 2012.[6]
  • Wisconsin - In recess from March 17 to December 31, 2012.[6]
See also: State legislative elections, 2012 and State legislative elections results, 2012
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A total of 86 of the 99 chambers will hold state legislative elections on November 6, 2012.

1,301 (65.97%) of the country's 1,972 state senate seats are up for election in November 2012, and 4,714 (87.12%) of the country's 5,411 state house seats are up for election. Altogether, 6,015 (81.47%) of the country's 7,383 state legislative seats will be up for election during the presidential election year.

  • 43 of the 50 state senates are holding elections.
  • 43 of the 49 state houses are holding elections.

The 6,015 seats up for election is 110 fewer than the 6,125 that were contested in 2010.

Filing deadlines

See also: Signature requirements and deadlines for 2012 state government elections and 2012 Elections preview: Comparing state legislative filing deadlines

As of July 12, all signature filing deadlines had passed.


See also: 2012 election dates

State legislative primaries wrapped up for the year as voters in New York went to the polls on September 13.

A total of 197 state legislative incumbents were defeated in a primary - 123 Republicans and 74 Democrats.

Primaries took place in 44 states in 2012:

Currently, 18 states permit the recall of state officials. Between 1913 and 2008, there were just 20 state legislative recall elections in five states. Of the 20 state legislative recall elections, 13 out of 20 resulted in the state legislator being recalled. In 2011, there were 11 state legislative recalls in three states, four of which resulted in the legislator being recalled. In 2012, there have been four state legislative recalls - three have failed while one succeeded.


Recall efforts are currently targeting four Republican members of the Louisiana House of Representatives - Charles "Chuck" Kleckley, Kevin Pearson, George Cromer and Ray Garofalo.

The legislators have been targeted primarily because of their support for controversial public education reforms backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).[8] There has been little news about the campaigns since they began.


2011 saw a wave of recall attempts in Michigan. While most of those efforts dried up, at least two campaigns continued on (the recall of Paul Scott was successful on November 8, 2011). Organizers of the campaigns to recall Bruce Caswell (R) and Phil Pavlov (R) set their sights on the August 2012 ballot, but both were ultimately abandoned.[9]

Following several attempts to get recall language approved against Sen. Randy Richardville, organizers succeeded on June 12, 2012. The approved petition language against Richardville states that one reason for the recall is Richardville's support for a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.[10]

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See also: State legislative special elections, 2012

So far in 2012 there have been 32 special elections in 13 states.

There are no special elections scheduled to take place this week.

Looking ahead

Upcoming special elections include:

  • November 6: Kentucky Senate District 19
  • November 6: Mississippi State Senate District 19
  • November 6: New Jersey Assembly Districts 16, 26, 68
  • December 11: Alabama House of Representatives Districts 30, 34
  • January 8, 2013: California State Senate District 4

See also