Beyond the Federal Landscape: 2020 Election Analysis

Juliet Shearin, News Editor

Although the presidential election and Biden’s drawn-out victory captured most voters’ attention, crucial state elections took place all over the US, many with consequences for the future.

They may be less flashy than the presidential election, but state legislative elections (think State Senate and State Assembly) are critical to making the laws that affect ordinary citizens. State powers are broad and deep: among those enumerated in the Constitution are the right to legislate on education, police and anything not already controlled by federal legislation. Blue states like California tend especially to legislate in ways contrary to what Congress may wish. For example, Assemblymember Evan Low has introduced Universal Basic Income legislation, and California has already passed extensive housing initiatives.

Controlling state legislation means, in many ways, controlling the legislative landscape of the United States. Though federal elections may have been a win for the Democrats (although the Senate will likely go red), state elections overwhelmingly went Republican. Of the 50 state legislatures, 29 went for the GOP, and only 19 went Democratic. Of the two remaining, one is officially nonpartisan while the other is bicamerally split. Including the governor as a position of power only increases the number of split legislatures to 11.

These figures highlight some of the polarization between states and parties currently rampant in the United States. The last time so few state governments were split, the year was 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower won 55% of the popular vote and went on to end the Korean war.

2020 was a crucial state legislative election because of what happens in the 2021 session: redistricting based on the census. Drawing election districts in a biased manner can heavily skew whole-state election outcomes. The resulting districts from a legislature controlled by Republicans often favor Republican voters, while those held by Democrats often favor Democrats. Although some state laws exist to curtail this kind of gerrymandering, a 2019 Supreme Court decision ruled that partisan gerrymandering was not within the justice system’s scope.

Beyond lawsuits and laws, state legislatures are another place for partisan fighting to grossly impact the United States’ future. Of the thousands of regulations Americans live under, thousands promulgate from state legislatures. A single-minded focus on federal legislation overlooks the hundreds of lawmakers still working on shaping the world they want to see.