Could Influx of New State Legislators Mean Spike in Election Legislation in 2013?


[Image courtesy of manikphotographe]

Last Friday, the Thicket at the National Conference of State Legislatures had a post by Karl Kurtz and Tim Storey about the likelihood that beginning in 2013, a majority of state legislators will have two or fewer years of experience.

Kurtz and Storey elaborate:

How do we arrive at this conclusion? The 2010 nationwide surge of Republican gains in state legislatures resulted in a high water mark of 29 percent for membership turnover in a non-redistricting year. For the upcoming 2012 election, the average rate of turnover in legislatures in years ending in “2” in the last three redistricting cycles is 30 percent. We have no reason to believe that 2012 will be any different.

What’s likely to be the impact of this turnover? Over at Election Updates, Reed’s Paul Gronke sees a “tide of amateurs” whose inexperience is “a recipe for potential legislative follies.”

In particular, Gronke says “[t]here will surely be a burst of activity on the elections front.” This is a pretty safe bet, actually; in the wake of the disputed 2000 election – and virtually every session since then – there has been an uptick in the number of bills at the outset of each legislation aimed at election procedures.

I’m not sure, however, that this burst of activity will necessarily be a function of the inexperience Kurtz and Storey predict. Elections are always a tempting subject for legislators because – as individuals who have won their most recent election – they feel well-positioned to identify what works and what doesn’t in the the voting process. This impulse isn’t limited to new members, though; every election brings new challenges and problems that even experienced legislators may feel motivated to address.

Moreover, the increasing partisan divisions over election policy have created a degree of sophistication among candidates and legislators alike, which often results in new members who know exactly what they do (or don’t) want to change in the election process. In particular, high-profile campaigns like Minnesota’s voter ID amendment – being run concurrently with campaigns for the legislators who will implement the law (or not) if it is approved by voters – virtually guarantees that for many of new legislators, election issues may not be unfamiliar at all.

In short, I have no doubt that 2013 will bring a new round of fights about election policy to state capitols nationwide. I’m just not sure that such fights will reflect inexperience on the part of new members as much as a continuing hardening of views on both sides of the political aisle.

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