State Legislature Elections: Minimal National Press, Big Voter Impact

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There are 435 U.S. House and 34 U.S. Senate seats on midterm referendums nationwide, with voters also set to elect 36 governors. But these contests will only be seen by people in most states when they go to the polls on Nov. 8.

Also on tap will be 133 ballot measures in 37 states and elections for 6,279 of 7,383 state legislature seats across 46 states. 

Amid the sustained shrinkage of local and state media outlets and mushrooming growth of 24/7 cable news networks and digital news sites that nearly exclusively focus on national issues and midterm races, state legislatures garner increasingly less coverage beyond undermanned capitol news bureaus that are often mere shells of their former staffing.

But make no mistake: State lawmakers adopt policies, impose regulations, and issue decisions that have more relevancy and impact in voters’ day-to-day lives than those that come from Congress. 

Impact on Daily Life

Outside of national defense, foreign policy, immigration, and interstate commerce, state legislatures are responsible for nearly everything else that the government deals with.

State lawmakers are the primary decision-makers across an array of concerns, including education, health care, infrastructure, elections, land use, sales taxes, firearms, and utilities, while controlling more than $2 trillion in yearly balanced-budget spending. After June’s U.S. Supreme Court repeal of Roe vs. Wade, that realm of responsibilities now includes regulating abortion access.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said in 1932, state legislatures are the “laboratories of democracy.” On legislatures’ dockets in 2023 will be the annual top three issues—state budgets, education, and health care—as well as legislation related to marijuana, autonomous vehicles, energy, prescription drugs, data privacy, policing, sports gaming, liquor laws, tax policies, family paid leave, technology, and school choice.

State legislatures can greatly vary in size and scope—unicameral Nebraska only has a 49-member nonpartisan Senate, while New Hampshire has 400 representatives in its House alone.

By John Haughey

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