At Sister District, we build and maintain Democratic majorities in state legislatures across the country. Since our founding in late 2016, we have had tremendous success by executing a comprehensive strategy that involves both electoral and non-electoral tactics.
Sister District Project’s political strategy is complemented by non-electoral efforts performed at our affiliated (c)(4), Sister District Action Network (SDAN). These include voter registration projects, civic education about the importance of state legislatures and state issues, and field experiments testing new methods of voter and volunteer contact. Each year, SDP and SDAN work together to create a mix of electoral and non-electoral activities for our volunteer community.
Every ten years, the results of the National Census trigger redistricting in the states. This means that after the 2020 Census, every state will redraw its electoral district maps—an opportunity that will not arise again until 2031. State legislatures control the redistricting process in 37 states, so who we send to our state legislatures between now and 2020 will have consequences for years to come.
Race Targeting Strategy
Elections in 2019 and 2020 are the last chance for Democrats to gain power in state legislatures prior to redistricting in 2021, which will determine the maps for the next decade.
In these two years, we will focus on “Last Chance” races: the last elections before redistricting in 2021, in states where the legislature controls redistricting - meaning whoever is elected in the race will draw their state’s next maps.
Our political strategy involves targeting three types of state legislative chambers: Blue Flips, Blue Holds, and Blue Inroads.
Blue flips: chambers where Democrats are down 1-4 seats that we can flip blue in one cycle
Blue holds: chambers where Democrats hold a fragile 1-2 seat majority that must be defended
Blue Inroads: “No Chamber Left Behind” - chambers where Democrats might not have a one-cycle solution to flipping, but where we must make whatever inroads we can particularly ahead of the Census in 2020 and redistricting thereafter.
2019: Focus on Last Chances
Flipping VA Blue, Inroads in the South, and Special Elections
Four states are holding general state legislative elections in 2019; we will be supporting races in three: Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia. We may also support special elections, if and when they align with our strategy. As always, the chambers in which we support candidates will fall within our general political strategy rubric, as blue flips, blue holds, or blue inroads:
|State||Chamber(s)||Type of Chamber(s)||“Last Chance” Before Redistricting|
|Virginia||Senate and House||Blue Flips||Yes|
|Louisiana||Senate and House||Blue Inroads||Yes|
|Mississippi||Senate and House||Blue Inroads||Yes|
|Special Elections||Senate and House||All categories||Prioritize when possible|
Blue flips - Virginia Senate & House
Virginia is currently under divided government: the Governor is a Democrat, while Republicans control both chambers of the legislature. The entire Virginia state legislature is up for election in 2019, and these are all Last Chance races. The current Governor is a Democrat, not up for election in 2019. The state legislature draws district lines. The Governor has the power to veto district maps drawn by the state legislature.
The state Senate is currently comprised of 19 Democrats and 21 Republicans, while the House of Delegates has 48 Democrats and 51 Republicans. Democrats have an incredible opportunity to flip both Virginia state leg chambers blue in 2019.
Demographic shifts in Virginia favor Democrats. And a number of badly gerrymandered House districts have recently been fairly redrawn upon federal court order (subject to Supreme Court review). This should give Democrats an opportunity to compete fairly in a broader set of House districts this year.
The candidate filing deadline is March 21, and the primary will be June 11. We are excited to come back to Virginia, where we supported 13 state legislative candidates in 2017, and help Virginians flip these chambers. This year, there are lots of excellent candidates running, so there are likely to be primaries in a number of top districts. This means that when we announce our races in late March, we are likely to announce support for a mix of fragile incumbents, new Democratic challengers, and districts where there are multiple Democrats running in a primary, where we have vetted each candidate and will support the winner.
blue inroads - Louisiana Senate & House
Louisiana is currently under divided government: the Governor is a Democrat, while Republicans control both chambers of the legislature.The entire Louisiana state legislature is up for election in 2019, and these are all Last Chance races. The current Governor is a Democrat, and is up for reelection this year. The state legislature draws district lines. The Governor has the power to veto district maps drawn by the state legislature.
Currently, the state senate is comprised of 14 Democrats and 25 Republicans. The House is currently comprised of 39 Democrats and 60 Republicans.
Interestingly, about 40% of the state leg seats will be open this year because of term limits. This could be a great opportunity for Louisianans to take advantage of these open seat opportunities to make key inroads ahead of the next round of districting. Also, note that Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is up for reelection in 2019. And since the Louisiana Governor has veto power over district maps, it is critically important that we keep Edwards in the Governor’s mansion. Building momentum at the bottom of the ticket will benefit the top of the ticket too in this critical redistricting moment.
The state is also poised to make great gains in 2019. Last year, a diverse coalition of interracial and interfaith groups came together in an unprecedented effort to abolish non-unanimous juries. They were successful, and now only one other state (Oregon) still has in place this Jim Crow law, which allowed individuals to be convicted and imprisoned without a unanimous jury of their peers. The coalition canvassed, called, and texted hundreds of thousands of voters, resulting in an updated voter file that presents fertile ground for progressive groups to use for getting out the vote this fall.
blue inroads - Mississippi Senate & House
Mississippi is under Republican trifecta control: Republicans control the Governorship and both chambers of the legislature. The entire Mississippi state legislature is up for election in 2019, and these are all Last Chance races. The current Governor is a Republican, but is term limited in 2019 and cannot run again. The state legislature draws district lines. The Governor does not have the power to veto district maps drawn by the state legislature.
The state senate is currently comprised of 19 Democrats and 33 Republicans. The house currently has 47 Democrats and 73 Republicans. The gubernatorial election is competitive, particularly in this open race. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate is viable and well-liked: current MS Attorney General Jim Hood. Building momentum at the bottom of the ticket will benefit the top of the ticket too in this critical redistricting moment.
Like Louisiana, Mississippi is also poised to make big gains this year. The South is rising, as evidenced by the Doug Jones victory in Alabama, and the almost wins of Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Andrew Gillum in Florida, and, of course, Mike Espy in Mississippi — all propelled by people of color, women, and young people. The infrastructure and voter data that was generated during the Espy race can be put toward Democratic efforts this year. The energy around certain progressive issues is also strong and has the ability to bring people across the aisle — an an example, from our conversations with stakeholders in the state, we see a tremendous amount of energy and strategy stemming from efforts make public education better for everyone.
2020: Ultimate Priority
Last Chances Before Redistricting
In 2020, our political strategy will again include chambers from each of our three categories, with ultimate priority given to those races in 2020 that are the last elections before redistricting in 2021, in states where the legislature controls redistricting — meaning whoever is elected in 2020 will draw their state’s next maps.
Further, we will prioritize states whose maps are badly gerrymandered: those states whose congressional maps would fail a 7% efficiency gap threshold, and those that NYU’s Brennan Center categorizes as “extreme maps.”
As was the case in 2018, there will be thousands of state legislative elections in 2020. Fortunately, we know which states, chambers and seats will be up next year. We can, therefore, articulate a strategy for 2020 now. Note that the composition of these chambers may shift over the next year, due to currently unknown special elections.
These are our state and chamber targets holding “Last Chance” elections in 2020:
The exact number of seats and chambers in which we ultimately support candidates in 2020 will depend on a number of factors, including candidate recruitment, and internal resources. We are already developing partnerships with local and national organizations and meeting candidates from our 2020 priority states so we can be ready to roll next year.
In 2020, as in 2019, we will continue to complement our political strategy at SDP with significant non-electoral work through our affiliated (c)(4), SDAN, to increase voter registration, voter education, and research partnerships with academics and nonprofit think tanks to test novel methods of voter and volunteer contact. We are already developing partnerships with local and national organizations for voter registration, civic engagement and voter education efforts in our 2019 and 2020 target states.
As a presidential election year, 2020 will be busy. Sister District will continue to provide a critical function in the ecosystem: by focusing on state legislative races, particularly in Last Chance redistricting chambers and seats, we will ensure these critical venues of power are not forgotten in the hub-bub of presidential and congressional races.
By articulating our 2019-2020 strategy now, we are in a unique position to leverage our deep expertise in state legislative strategy to get a significant jump-start on planning and execution.
Read here for a look back on our 2018 political strategy.