Voters head to the polls across the country on Tuesday to decide a host of critical elections that will shape social and fiscal policy — and offer an early hint about the state of the electorate a year before the 2020 presidential election.
Here are the critical races to watch as the results come in early next week:
Voters here will choose a new governor to replace term-limited Gov. Phil Bryant (R). Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is the favorite, both because of Mississippi’s red hue and because of an arcane law that requires statewide candidates to win a majority of state legislative districts, not just the popular vote, that favors Republicans in an age of hyper polarization.
But recent polls have showed Reeves running only slightly ahead of Attorney General Jim Hood (D), one of the last Democrats to hold statewide office in the Deep South. Hood has won a majority of legislative districts before, so it’s not out of the question that Democrats could win back the governorship for the first time since Ronnie Musgrove won election in 1999.
A strong economy, a low unemployment rate and a rising Republican electorate should be propelling Gov. Matt Bevin (R) to a second term. But Bevin has gone out of his way to pick fights — with the Republican-controlled legislature, with teacher’s unions, and even with his own lieutenant governor.
He faces a stiff challenge from Attorney General Andy Beshear (D), the son of Bevin’s predecessor in the governor’s mansion. Polls show a tight race, and Democrats say their data shows Beshear ahead. Bevin, like Reeves in Mississippi, is trying to nationalize the race, bringing in President Trump for an election-eve rally in Lexington.
Virginia Republicans are defending slim majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. A court-ordered redistricting has made several districts more friendly to Democrats, and Republicans are now defending half a dozen seats that voted for Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in 2017.
Republicans have a chance to win back some of the seats they lost that year, when they retained control of the House of Delegates thanks to a single tied race that was decided by drawn lots. Virginia, where Democrats picked up three U.S. House seats in 2018, has been a bellwether in the past: The last time Democrats won control of the state Senate in Virginia was in 2007, a year before Barack Obama won the presidency.
The question in New Jersey is not whether Democrats will hold control of the General Assembly, but whether they will maintain their supermajority. Democrats hold 54 of the 80 seats in the state’s lower chamber, all of which are up for election this year. As a reflection of their dominance, Democratic candidates have raised almost four times what Republican candidates have raised this year.
Voters in one Southern New Jersey district will get to pick a state senator, too, after Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D) left Trenton to take a seat in Congress. His replacement, state Sen. Bob Andrzejczak (D), faces Republican Mike Testa in a district that President Trump won by 9 percentage points in 2016.
Testa has tried to tie Andrzejczak to unpopular party bosses in New Jersey, something Van Drew avoided by building a reputation as an independent — a reputation he tried to bolster Thursday when he was one of just two House Democrats to oppose a formal impeachment inquiry.
Seven races for city council seats across one of the most liberal cities in America have become referenda on Amazon and its growing political power.
After leading a campaign against a so-called head tax on big business last year, Amazon has spent an unprecedented seven-figure sum on independent expenditures in a city where typical races are low-six figure affairs.
Like other liberal West Coast cities, Seattle faces a serious housing and homeless crisis. The tens of thousands of high-paid tech workers who flood Amazon’s campus every day have exacerbated the problem. Tuesday’s elections will test whether the tech giant can build electoral power the same way they have built a lobbying juggernaut in Washington, D.C., and state capitals across the country.
WASHINGTON REFERENDUM 88
Two decades ago, Washington State voters banned affirmative action through Initiative 200, in one of the most divisive campaigns the state had ever seen. Now, voters have the chance to overturn that initiative and reinstitute affirmative action in educational, employment or contracting purposes.
But here’s where it gets complicated: Supporters of affirmative action sent a measure repealing Initiative 200 to the legislature earlier this year.
The legislature passed that measure, Initiative 1000, on party-line votes. But opponents of affirmative action qualified a referendum to overturn that legislative vote for November’s ballot. So on Tuesday, Referendum 88 asks voters whether they want to overturn the bill that overturned the initiative that outlawed affirmative action in the first place.
WASHINGTON INITIATIVE 976
Western states have a century-long tradition of direct democracy, and few people have professionalized the ballot measure process more than Tim Eyman.
Eyman, a conservative activist, qualified his first ballot initiative in 1999, and he’s made something of a business out of gathering signatures for measures that would cut taxes and reduce government — even if some are later found unconstitutional or fail to make the ballot in the first place.
Eyman’s latest offering is Initiative 976, something of a throwback to his very first foray into the world of ballot measures. The measure would cut car tab fees to $30 per vehicle and ties vehicle taxes to Kelley Blue Book values rather than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. It would cost state and local government more than $4 billion, according to state estimates, at a time when budget margins are already thin.
COLORADO PROPOSITION CC
At the height of the tax-cutting 1990s, no state went farther than Colorado and its Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
TABOR, as it has become known, required state and local governments to seek voter approval for any tax rate increase, and it required the state government to refund excess money it collected back to taxpayers.
Colorado is a much more liberal state today than it was when TABOR passed in 1992, and voters are being asked to allow state government to keep some of that money. State budget analysts say Proposition CC would let Colorado keep more than $300 million a year that otherwise would go back to taxpayers in the form of refund checks.
TEXAS PROPOSITION 4
Texas is one of seven states without an income tax, and now state legislators want to make it even harder to implement one in the future. The legislature voted to send Proposition 4 to the ballot this year, which would amend the state constitution to explicitly prohibit an income tax.
Neither proponents nor opponents have spent a lot of money promoting the initiative — the writing is on the wall — but most of the state’s major newspapers have editorialized against it. Even the conservative Dallas Morning News, which reiterated its opposition to state income taxes, called the measure “unnecessary.”
Voters in Arizona’s second-largest and most liberal city will decide whether to formally declare themselves a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
Proposition 205 would formally prohibit Tucson’s law enforcement officers from contacting federal immigration officials when they apprehend someone who might be in the country illegally.
New York City voters will decide Question 1, which would implement ranked-choice voting in future primary and special elections. Maine is the only state with ranked-choice voting, and cities like Berkeley, San Francisco, Minneapolis and St. Paul have all passed ranked-choice laws.
Albuquerque voters will decide whether to follow Seattle’s lead in creating a voucher program for small-dollar campaign donations. Proposition 2 would create “democracy dollars,” $25 vouchers that eligible residents could give to local candidates to fund their campaigns.
Only a handful of cities will elect mayors this year. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) are both likely to cruise to reelection.