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Key Takeaways:

  • When a political party holds a supermajority of seats in a state legislature, that supermajority has the power to override gubernatorial vetoes as well as approve special measures that require passage beyond a simple majority.
  • Currently, of the 99 state legislative chambers, Republicans hold supermajorities in 30 chambers and Democrats hold supermajorities in 20 chambers.
  • In 2020, if Democrats are able to secure supermajorities in the Delaware Senate, New Mexico House, and New York Senate, while Republicans retain their current supermajority level, Democrats will inch closer to Republican’s 30 supermajority chambers with 23 of their own.

This is the third of several 2020 state elections preview posts we’re publishing over the next few weeks. Previously, we discussed state legislative control and the gubernatorial races. You can keep track of all the latest information on our 2020 state elections landing page

When a political party holds a supermajority of seats in a state legislature, that supermajority has the power to override gubernatorial vetoes as well as approve special measures (e.g., sending constitutional amendments to the voters) that require passage beyond a simple majority. Currently, of the 99 state legislative chambers, Republicans hold supermajorities in 30 chambers and Democrats hold supermajorities in 20 chambers. The remaining 49 chambers have one political party with a simple majority that cannot override the governor's veto of its legislation. 

Supermajorities are particularly important when the sitting governor is of the opposite political party than the supermajority because it can effectively neutralize the governor’s veto power over the legislative branch. More likely, a supermajority and sitting governor may be of the same political party, but a legislature with veto override powers can push a governor of the same party to more extreme political stances than that governor might have taken on their own. 

The 2020 state elections could see parties lose supermajorities in some state legislatures and parties gain supermajorities in others. Notably, according to projections produced by election forecasters CNalysis, Republicans could lose supermajorities in the Arkansas House (Tilt Republican Keep) and Missouri Senate (Likely Republican Keep), while Democrats could lose supermajorities in the Nevada House (Tilt Democratic Keep) and the Oregon House (Lean Democratic Keep) and Senate (Tilt Democratic Lose). On the other hand, Democrats could gain a supermajority in the Delaware Senate (Likely Democratic Gain), New Mexico House (Toss-Up Democratic Gain), and New York Senate (Toss-Up Democratic Gain), while Republicans are largely playing defense on their 30 state legislative chamber supermajorities (with no significant supermajority gain opportunities). 

As I noted last week, Democrats have a good chance at taking over control of a handful of state legislative chambers on November 3. Similarly, Democrats can chip away at recent Republican dominance in state legislatures by gaining enough seats to deny Republicans supermajority control or gain supermajority control themselves in several states. If Democrats are able to secure supermajorities in the Delaware Senate, New Mexico House, and New York Senate, while Republicans retain their current supermajority level, Democrats will inch closer to Republican’s 30 supermajority chambers with 23 of their own. Republicans are also poised to deny Democrats their supermajority in the Oregon Senate, which would diminish any Democratic gains in supermajorities in 2020. 

For more information, check out MultiState’s 2020 state elections landing page.