NEBHE Reports on Results of Pandemic-Shaped Elections

By Carolyn Morwick

The New England states set new records for voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election. A significant percentage of absentee, mail-in ballots were cast in each state, ranging from 20% to 50% of the total vote. City and town clerks attributed the rising share of absentee, mail-in ballots to COVID.

In the race for president, Democrat Joe Biden won all six New England states. Members of the region’s congressional delegation were re-elected. In the Massachusetts fourth congressional district, Jake Auchincloss (D) replaced former Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate against Ed Markey. In Maine, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R) beat back a challenge from former speaker of the Maine House Sara Gideon (D) to begin her sixth  term in the Senate

Following the election, the Biden administration nominated its team to fill cabinet posts and other appointments. Biden selected Miguel Cardona, the former commissioner of education in Connecticut, to be the next U.S. secretary of education. Biden also tapped Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island to be secretary of commerce. Both have been confirmed by the Senate. Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston who was nominated by Biden to be the next secretary of labor, awaits confirmation.

In terms of state legislative control, Democrats prevailed except in New  Hampshire, where Republicans gained control of the House and Senate. As of mid-March, lawmakers continued to work remotely, while state capitols remained closed to the public and the legislative agendas were dominated by COVID.

State lawmakers continue to deal with fiscal issues created by COVID, which depleted state revenues, created high unemployment and resulted in the loss of thousands of businesses. After using remote and hybrid learning, schools, including K-12 and higher education institutions that were closed have begun preparing to reopen.

Major relief bill

The $1.9 trillion relief bill signed into law by the president on March 10 includes funding for PreK-12 education, COVID-related expenses and funding for state and local governments. The relief bill also provides that student loan forgiveness is now tax-free. Formerly, any student loan debt canceled by the government was considered taxable and levied at the borrower’s normal income tax rate.

In the states …

Connecticut. Nearly 80% or 1.8 million of Connecticut’s 2.3 million registered voters cast ballots, with 35% or 665,987 of them voting absentee. Connecticut voters chose Biden for president with 59% of the vote. All five members of the state’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, easily won re-election.

In the Connecticut General Assembly, Democrats added to their numbers in the House giving them a 97-54 majority. In the Senate, Democrats added two new members for a supermajority, 24–12.

The House elected Rep. Matt Ritter to be speaker, replacing outgoing Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, who chose not to seek re-election. Matt Ritter is the son of former Speaker Thomas Ritter. Rep. Jason Rojas became the new House majority leader. House Republicans chose Rep. Vincent Candelora as the new House minority leader. In the Senate, Sen. Martin Looney continues as Senate president, with Sen. Bob Duff as Senate majority leader. Republican senators chose Sen. Kevin Kelly to replace Sen Lou Fasano as Senate minority leader.

Lawmakers tackling the biennial budget for FY22 and FY23 will have to deal with the current deficit of $880 million, according to Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

Maine. Voter turnout in Maine was estimated to be the second highest in the nation, behind only Minnesota. More than 828,000 votes were cast, nearly half via absentee, mail-in ballots.

In the nationally watched U.S. Senate election, incumbent Susan Collins beat Sara Gideon, who was heavily favored in the polls up to the day of the election. Collins was targeted by Democrats and perceived to be vulnerable, based partly on her vote to support U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Maine voters stood by Collins who beat her opponent 51% to 42%, a wide enough margin to avoid Maine’s rank-choice voting law, which states the winner must have 50% of the vote to win.

In the Maine state Legislature, Democrats maintained control of both branches. In the House, Democrats outnumber Republicans, 80–67 with 4 Independents. In the Senate, Democrats gained one seat increasing their majority to 22–13 and coming within one seat of having a super majority.

The House elected Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D) as its new speaker. At age 28, Fecteau is the youngest and the first openly gay person to be elected speaker. Also elected were Rep. Michelle Dunphy as House majority leader. Republicans elected Rep. Kathleen R. J. Dillingham as minority leader.

Sen. Troy Jackson continues as Senate president and Sen. Nate Libby as Senate majority leader. Republicans elected Jeffrey Timberlake Senate minority leader.

Gov. Janet Mills released her two-year budget for FY22 and FY23, which doesn’t raise taxes and adds to the state’s rainy day fund. The $8.4 billion two-year budget includes a supplemental budget for FY21. The shortfall for FY21 is now estimated to be approximately $600 million.

Massachusetts. Bay State voters cast a record 3.7 million ballots in the 2020 election. Of those, 1.5 million or 42% were mailed in.

Voters chose Biden for president with 65% of the vote. In the U.S. Senate race, the incumbent, Markey, bested Republican challenger, Kevin O’ Connor with 66% of the vote. All members of the state’s congressional delegation easily won their races, including the newest member, Auchincloss, who succeeds Congressman Joe Kennedy in the 4th congressional district.

In the state Legislature, House Democrats hold the majority, 128–30, with 1 Independent and 1 vacancy. Senate Democrats expanded their supermajority to 37–3.

The House elected a new speaker to replace Robert DeLeo, who accepted a position at Northeastern University, his alma mater. DeLeo is succeeded as speaker by House Majority Leader Ron Mariano. Rep. Claire Cronin (D) is the new House majority leader. Rep. Bradley Jones continues as the Republican minority leader of the House.

Sen. Karen Spilka continues in her role as Senate president with Sen. Cynthia Creem as Senate majority leader. Sen. Bruce Tarr will continue as Senate minority leader, with Sen. Ryan Fattman as assistant minority leader.

New Hampshire. The Granite State broke a previous record for turnout with 814,092 votes cast. Of the total, 32% or 261,062 were absentee ballots.

Biden won the race for president 53% to 45%.  In the U.S. Congress, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen secured her 3rd term, winning her race against Republican opponent, Bryant “Corky”” Messner, who moved to New Hampshire from Colorado to take on Shaheen. Rep. Annie Kuster (D) and Rep. Chris Pappas (D) held off Republican challengers.

Republicans gained control of both houses of the state Legislature. . In the House, Republicans outnumber Democrats 212 to 187. In the Senate, Republicans outnumber Democrats 14  to 10. Rep. Sherman Packard (R–Londonderry) was elected speaker of the House, replacing Rep. Dick Hinch, who served for a month before succumbing to COVID-19. Sen. Chuck Morse (R) returns as Senate president.

Gov. Chris Sununu easily won re-election. Sununu is considering a run against U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan who will be up for re-election. A recent poll by the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center shows Sununu ahead of Hassan, 48% to 46%. Hassan fares better in a face-off with former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, 48% to 43%. Ayotte is said to be interested in her old Senate seat which could set up a primary fight with Sununu.

Rhode Island. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea reported 482,082 ballots cast in the Ocean State, surpassing the record set in 2008 when 475,428 Rhode Islanders voted in the year of Barack Obama’s first landslide victory.

In the race for president, Biden beat incumbent Donald Trump, 59% to  38%. In Congress, Sen. Jack Reed (D) easily won another six-year term with 67% of votes cast. Rep. David Cicilline (D) and Rep. James Langevin (D) each won another two-year term.

Lt. Gov. Dan McKee was sworn in on March 4 to serve as governor, succeeding Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), who was appointed  commerce secretary in the Biden administration.

In the Rhode Island General Assembly, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the House, 65 to 10, and in the Senate, 33 to 5.

Former House Majority Leader Joe Skekarchi (D) was elected speaker of the House, replacing Nicholas Mattiello, who lost his bid for re-election. Rep. Christopher Blazejewski  (D), a progressive, from Providence, became the new House majority leader. The new House minority leader is Blake Filippi (R).

Sen. Dominick J. Ruggerio (D) was re-elected Senate president along with Sen. Michael McCaffrey (D) as Senate majority leader. The Senate Republican leader is Sen. Dennis Algiere.

Vermont. Voters elected Biden for president with 66% of the vote. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch won his bid for re-election with 67% of the vote.

Gov. Phil Scott (R) won re-election for a third term with 68% of the vote, besting Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (D). Scott, a moderate Republican and outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump has remained one of the nation’s more popular governors.

In the Vermont General Assembly, the House elected Rep. Jill Krowinski (D) to be the new speaker and Rep. Emily Long (D) to be House majority leader.  Rep. Pattie McCoy (R) was elected House minority leader. The Senate elected Sen. Becca Balint (D) as the new Senate president. She is the first woman and the first openly gay person to be elected to that post. Sen. Alison Clarkson (D) Windsor was elected the new Senate majority leader. Republican senators elected Randy Brock as Senate minority leader. Brock is the only African-American in the Vermont General Assembly. Notably, all those in leadership positions in the House and Senate, except Brock, are women. Molly Gray (D), the newly elected lieutenant governor who replaces Zuckerman, will preside over the Vermont Senate.

Democrats control both branches of the Legislature with a 23-7 margin in the Senate. The House is made up of 92 Democrats, 46 Republicans, 7 Progressives and 5 Independents.

Carolyn Morwick recently retired after 35 years at NEBHE, including as director of government and community affairs. She also previously served as director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.

Related Posts:

New England Legislative Sessions: Priorities Shift Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Young People Are Hungering for Conversation, Even on Difficult Matters … A NEJHE Q&A with Mary K. Grant of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute

Reinvigorating Democracy … A NEJHE Q&A with Nancy Thomas of Tufts

The Votes Are In … Now, the Hard Work





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