why are state legislatures so important?
Many of us only vote in national elections. Many of us don’t even know the names of our own representatives in our state’s House and Senate. So it may come as a surprise that state legislatures are crucial to the outcome of national elections.
The Republican party currently controls 32 of the nation’s 50 state legislatures. In 25 of these states with Republican legislatures, the governor is Republican, too.
We call these situations “trifectas,” because one party controls the three most powerful institutions of state government: (1) the State House, (2) the State Senate, and (3) the governorship. Trifectas give political parties nearly unchecked power at the state level.
With 25 state trifectas, Republicans have an extraordinary advantage in local, state, and national elections.
tools of the trifecta
Republican governors and Republican state legislatures use the following tools to influence the outcomes of elections:
Redistricting - the practice of redrawing the lines of electoral districts, which takes place every 10 years. When district lines are redrawn in ways intended to benefit one political party, we call it gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a corrupt practice that skews election results and removes agency from the voters.
Voter ID laws - laws that require voters to show photo identification before voting. These laws disproportionately affect minorities and lower-income voters—groups that have historically supported the Democratic party.
Voter registration laws - discriminatory laws that create obstacles to registration (e.g. requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship). As Republican power at the state level increases, it becomes easier for Republican lawmakers to pass ever stricter voter ID and registration laws, which in turn makes it easier for Republicans to win elections.
Republican-engineered gerrymandering and voter suppression are widespread across the country, in large part because of Republican trifectas.
To fight back against these anti-democratic practices, we must gain control of state legislatures. State legislators, in conjunction with governors, have an awesome power to shape the norms of our democracy. We need to put this power in the hands of trusted progressive leaders.
a bit of history
In 2008, the Republican party recognized an opportunity to remake the political map. They began investing heavily in state races, with the hope of controlling the redistricting process in 2010. Their efforts paid off: by the end of 2016, half of all states were Republican trifectas.
By systematically flipping seats in state legislatures and governorships, the GOP has created an alarming situation of ever-more-entrenched Republican control.
We must beat the Republicans at their own game. We must flip state legislatures from Red to Blue. It’s the only way to safeguard our democracy—the only way to enact our shared progressive ideals.