Democrats are projected to win majorities in the Michigan state House of Representatives and Senate in Tuesday’s elections, after fairer maps created by a new independent redistricting commission put them on track to flip both chambers of a legislature they haven’t simultaneously controlled for nearly four decades.
Coupled with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reelection win, Democrats will have trifecta control of Michigan for the first time since 1984.
The results of the races are not yet final as of Wednesday afternoon. But Michigan Democrats claimed victory in both chambers and Republican leaders acknowledged defeat, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Republicans have held the majority in the Michigan state Senate since 1984 and the state House since 2011. Over the last decade, the GOP has used its power to aggressively gerrymander legislative maps and essentially guarantee perpetual dominance, despite Michigan’s status as an evenly divided swing state.
In 2018, however, Michigan voters approved a ballot referendum that created an independent redistricting panel to oversee the process. That change resulted in maps in 2021 that were considerably fairer than their predecessors and, according to projections, likely to produce a legislature that closely mirrored the overall statewide vote count.
The combination of fairer maps, a strong top of the ticket led by Whitmer and the emergence of abortion rights as a major issue turned Michigan into one of the country’s biggest legislative battlegrounds ― fueling Democratic hopes of a flip even in a year that seemed destined to favor Republicans.
“For the first time in a very long time, I feel like we’re playing on an even playing field,” state Sen. Curtis Hertel (D) told HuffPost in August. “We’ve been playing a rigged game for three decades here in Michigan, and finally for the first time, it’s not rigged. We have maps that are even.”
Republicans entered Tuesday with a 22-16 majority in the state Senate and a 56-53 hold on the state House. Vote counting has continued into Wednesday, but Democrats are projected to win a 56-54 majority in the state House, according to news outlet Michigan Independent Research Service.
They are projected to win at least a 20-18 majority in the state Senate, MIRS reported. Gongwer, another outlet that covers Michigan politics, also projected Democrats would take control of the state Senate.
They held all three major statewide offices, with Whitmer defeating Republican Tudor Dixon in the governor’s race while Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel each won reelection.
“The people of Michigan have spoken, and however narrowly, have chosen Democrats to control the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) said Wednesday, according to the Free Press. “While not the outcome I was hoping for, I offer my congratulations to my Democratic colleagues. We will do our part for a smooth transition.”
GOP House Speaker Jason Wentworth also acknowledged that Democrats had won the majority, the paper reported.
With their new majorities, Michigan Democrats aim to advance legislation on key issues that Republicans have blocked in recent years, including new gun control measures and expanded voting rights. Hertel told HuffPost that Democrats would also seek to roll back the state’s anti-union “right-to-work” law, which Republicans used their legislative majorities to implement in 2012.
Before the creation of the independent redistricting commission, it was essentially impossible for Democrats to win control of the Michigan Legislature, even if they won the statewide vote overall. In 2014, for instance, Republicans barely won the statewide vote but claimed 27 of 38 seats in the state Senate. In 2016, the GOP lost the overall statewide vote in legislative races but won 63 of 110 seats in the state House, as the outlet Bridge Michigan reported.
The referendum that created the commission resulted from a drive led by Voters Not Politicians, a grassroots group that collected more than 425,000 signatures on a petition calling for the adoption of an independent redistricting process. In 2018, 61% of Michigan voters approved the referendum, which oversaw the redistricting process for the first time during the 2020 cycle.
“In the past, we would identify a handful ― maybe half a dozen ― frontline seats that were winnable,” state Rep. Rachel Hood (D) told HuffPost this fall. “Now, with this sort of flood of more moderate seats, we have arguably between 15 and 25 seats in play.”
Abortion rights played a heavy role in Michigan’s elections thanks to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and an ensuing ballot referendum that sought to enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution.
That initiative was also projected to win.
Democrats scored other big victories in major state legislative battles. They held on to the Minnesota state House of Representatives and won control of the state Senate, Republican leaders in the state conceded Wednesday morning. They also protected existing majorities in both chambers of the Maine Legislature and the Colorado state House and Senate.
Republicans are projected to gain seats in the North Carolina General Assembly, but not enough to earn a supermajority that would allow them to circumvent Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) veto powers. Democrats are also projected to prevent Republicans from assembling a supermajority in Wisconsin, where Gov. Tony Evers (D) won reelection on Tuesday.
Results in the Arizona Legislature, in which Democrats needed to flip a single seat in either chamber to break the GOP’s hold on the emerging battleground, were still uncertain as of Wednesday morning.