Sunday, 29 Jan 2023

Were at risk: the little-known races that could expand Republican power

Were at risk: the little-known races that could expand Republican power

Were at risk: the little-known races that could expand Republican power

Eva Burch has worn out her shoes visiting thousands of voters this year.

Burch, a Democrat running for the Arizona state senate, tells people that her race could be decided by just a few hundred votes. She's not just "cat-mousing them" - the race really could be that close. And while her race has gotten nowhere near the amount of attention of Arizona's closely watched US Senate and gubernatorial races, it could ultimately be just as important.

The battle for control of the Arizona senate runs through this competitive district in suburban Mesa, once a Republican stronghold. Republicans currently have a one-seat majority in both of the state legislative chambers, and Democrats are hoping they can at least work Republicans to a tie.

Burch's race is one of several under-the-radar contests that will determine who controls legislative chambers, responsible for enacting state laws, across the US. Those races increasingly have profound consequences for American democracy. In 2020, Donald Trump and allies turned to state legislatures as a key part of his effort to overturn the election and could do so again in 2024. The US supreme court could also endorse a novel legal theory next year that gives state legislatures significantly more power over setting rules for federal elections.

It's not just elections. With Washington deadlocked, state legislatures are also increasingly playing a powerful role in driving decisions around voting access, abortion, education and gun rights.

"One of the best and worst parts of state legislatures is, the things that they're making decisions on directly affect people's lives in a way that Congress sometimes doesn't," said Amanda Litman, a co-founder of Run for Something, which focuses on down-ballot races.

This year, Democrats are at a disadvantage - Republicans control 30 state legislatures, while Democrats control only 17. State lawmakers in many states are responsible for drawing district lines. Those Republican majorities gave state lawmakers power to draw advantageous districts and lock in their majorities for the next decade, essentially allowing lawmakers to pick the voters they represent.

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