Why little-noticed state legislative races could be hugely consequential for American democracy

By | October 10, 2022

The New York Times reports:

The conversation started with potholes.

Veronica Klinefelt, a Democratic candidate for State Senate in suburban Detroit, was out knocking on doors as she tries to win a seat her party sees as critical for taking back the chamber. “I am tired of seeing cuts in aging communities like ours,” she told one voter, gesturing to a cul-de-sac pocked with cracks and crevasses. “We need to reinvest here.”

What went largely unspoken, however, was how this obscure local race has significant implications for the future of American democracy.

The struggle for the Michigan Senate, as well as clashes for control of several other narrowly divided chambers in battleground states, have taken on outsize importance at a time when state legislatures are ever more powerful. With Congress often deadlocked and conservatives dominating the Supreme Court, state governments increasingly steer the direction of voting laws, abortion access, gun policy, public health, education and other issues dominating the lives of Americans.

The Supreme Court could soon add federal elections to that list.

The justices are expected to decide whether to grant nearly unfettered authority over such elections to state legislatures — a legal argument known as the independent state legislature theory. If the court does so, many Democrats believe, state legislatures could have a pathway to overrule the popular vote in presidential elections by refusing to certify the results and instead sending their own slates of electors.

While that might seem like a doomsday scenario, 44 percent of Republicans in crucial swing-state legislatures used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, according to a New York Times analysis. More like-minded G.O.P. candidates on the ballot could soon join them in office.

Republicans have complete control over legislatures in states that have a total of 307 electoral votes — 37 more than needed to win a presidential election. They hold majorities in several battleground states, meaning that if the Supreme Court endorsed the legal theory, a close presidential election could be overturned if just a few states assigned alternate slates of electors.

Democrats’ chances of bringing Republicans’ total below 270 are narrow: They would need to flip the Michigan Senate or the Arizona Senate, and then one chamber in both Pennsylvania and New Hampshire in 2024, in addition to defending the chambers the party currently controls. [Continue reading…]

 

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