Tuesday's elections in states and localities across the country delivered a sweeping victory for voting-rights proponents thanks to Democratic wins over Republicans who would have likely restricted access to the ballot box. Daily Kos Elections has been closely watching four states where competitive elections had major implications for voting rights and fair elections, and Democrats won each of those contests.
In particular, we focused on four states:
Virginia: Democrats held the state Senate and flipped the state House, denying the GOP unified control of state government.
Pennsylvania: Democrats won a vacant state Supreme Court seat, flipped three appellate court seats, and won key county elections that determine which party administers elections heading into 2024 in this major swing state.
Kentucky: Democrats won the governor's race, which determines whether thousands of people will regain their voting rights over the next four years.
Maine: Several ballot measures aimed to reform elections, and the two most impactful ones were both approved.
Below, we'll explore the likely consequences of each of these elections in these four states.
Heading into yesterday's elections, Republican Glenn Youngkin held the governor's office, the GOP controlled a 52-48 state House majority, and conservatives maintained a majority on the state Supreme Court. The only thing that stood in the GOP's way was the state Senate, where Democrats held a 22-18 majority.
Following Tuesday's results, Democrats held the Senate with a 21-19 majority and flipped the House with at least 51 seats. These critical victories don't just mean that Republicans can't enact numerous laws to restrict voting rights; they also mean Democrats can restart the process of expanding them and building upon the historic reforms that the party enacted when it held full power in 2020 and 2021.
Chief among these reforms is likely to be a constitutional amendment that restores voting rights to people with felony convictions who aren't in prison. Earlier this year, Youngkin reinstated a Jim Crow-era voting ban that imposes a lifetime voting ban for anyone with a felony conviction unless the governor personally restores their rights, reversing a policy from his Democratic predecessor that had restored voting rights to everyone who wasn't imprisoned. If this amendment becomes law, it could make that restoration policy permanent.
To become law in Virginia, legislators must pass the same amendment in two consecutive sessions, with a state election in between, and then voters must approve it in a referendum. Virginia Democrats had tried to do just that in 2021 by passing an amendment to restore voting rights to everyone after prison, but the GOP-led House refused to take it up again last year. Now, Democrats could restart this process and put it on the ballot as soon as 2026 if they hold their majorities in 2025.
Virginia is also one of just two states in the country where legislators directly elect state Supreme Court justices, with the members of both chambers voting as one combined body. Conservatives hold a 5-2 majority thanks in no small part to the GOP's 2021 state House victories, which let them choose two new justices last year, and no current justice's term expires until 2027. However, the new Democratic majority means they could fill any vacancies that unexpectedly arise.
Pennsylvania is one of the most important swing states in the country, and Democrats scored smashing victories across the state for offices that will affect voting rights heading into 2024. Most importantly, Democratic Dan McCaffery defeated Republican Carolyn Carluccio 53-47 to win a vacant state Supreme Court seat, enabling Democrats to regain the 5-2 majority that they held until Democratic Chief Justice Max Baer died last year.
Under Democratic control since the 2015 elections, the court has been instrumental in ensuring fair elections by deeming partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional, protecting voting access during the pandemic-related disruptions to the 2020 election, and rejecting Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his loss.
While partisan control of the court wasn't at stake this year, at least two recent occasions have seen one Democratic justice side with Republicans on key voting rights cases, resulting in a 3-3 split following Baer's death, which meant the lower court rulings that were being appealed remained in place. With McCaffery's vote, similar future cases could go 4-3 in favor of broader voting access.
Democrats also won pivotal elections for Pennsylvania's two intermediary appellate courts. They flipped two seats to gain a 9-6 majority on the Superior Court, which handles criminal and private civil matters, and they gained a seat on the Commonwealth Court, which hears cases on administrative and public civil law, including on redistricting and voting rights. While the GOP still holds a 5-4 majority on the latter court, one of the Republican judges has often ruled in favor of broader voting access.
Democrats also scored key victories for local offices that determine which party oversees election administration in several big counties. Democrat Sara Innamorato won 51-49 for Allegheny County executive in the Pittsburgh area, maintaining her party's control over the Board of Elections in Pennsylvania's second-largest county. Democrats in populous Bucks and Chester counties in the Philadelphia suburbs also held their majorities on their county commissions, while Democrats flipped the Dauphin County Commission in the Harrisburg area for the first time since at least 1919.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won reelection by a 53-47 margin over Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, ensuring that thousands more Kentuckians will be able to vote in this very red state.
Since his initial 2019 win, Beshear has implemented a policy of restoring voting rights to citizens who had fully served a sentence for nonviolent felonies. As a result, Beshear has restored voting rights to at least 180,000 people. Had Cameron won, he could have revived the lifetime voting ban for all felony convictions going forward, a policy that had prohibited roughly 1 in 11 Kentuckians and 1 in 4 Black adults from voting before Beshear took action four years ago.
The latest estimates from the Sentencing Project indicate that Beshear's policy has cut Kentucky's overall disenfranchisement rate in half and by even more among Black Kentuckians, but roughly 153,000 people remain banned from voting, including more than 76,000 who have fully served their sentences. It's possible that Beshear could expand his policy even further now that he can’t run for reelection in 2027 due to the state’s limit on the number of consecutive terms.
Maine voted on several ballot measures this month, four of which affected elections or voting rights.
Voters put Question 2 on the ballot as an initiative and passed it in an 86-14 landslide to ban foreign governments (or entities in which those governments have at least a 5% ownership stake) from spending on elections for ballot measures in Maine. Federal law already prohibits foreign spending on behalf of federal, state, and local candidates but not for ballot campaigns, so this measure aimed to address this loophole that had enabled a Canadian utility company to spend $22 million on a 2021 ballot measure.
The Democratic-led legislature also put Question 5 on the ballot, which voters approved 58-42 to give state officials more time to review voter signatures for ballot initiatives, something the secretary of state's office has said will reduce the burden on election officials.
Voters did reject two constitutional amendments lawmakers had put on the ballot. Question 7 lost 69-31 and would have repealed a requirement that only Maine residents who are registered voters can gather signatures for ballot initiatives. Question 8 lost 53-47 and would have removed language disenfranchising would-be voters who are under guardianship for a mental illness. However, federal courts had previously ruled both these limitations unconstitutional.
This piece has been updated to include further information about Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court.