Mostly True
Sarvis
"Over 40 of our 100 (House of) Delegates seats go uncontested every year, and over 40 percent of our state senate seats go uncontested every year."

Robert Sarvis on Monday, September 1st, 2014 in a speech

Sarvis says over 40 percent of Virginia's General Assembly seats go uncontested each election

Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Robert Sarvis says the two-party system leads to a lot of one-candidate elections.

In a speech at the Buena Vista Labor Day Festival, Sarvis said voters need more choices, particularly in General Assembly elections.

"Over 40 of our 100 (House of) Delegates seats go uncontested every year, and over 40 percent of our state senate seats go uncontested every year," Sarvis said.

With all General Assembly seats up for election next year, we put Sarvis’ statement to the Truth-O-Meter.

Nicholas Cote, spokesman for the Sarvis campaign, said the claim was based on election data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. The records examine general elections going back to 1999 and show the number of uncontested statehouse elections.

All seats in the 100-member House are up for grabs every two years. Cote accurately noted that in the last eight elections, an average of 49.75 seats House seats were uncontested. That would be in line with Sarvis’ proclamation that more than 40 House of Delegates seats are one-candidate elections.

All seats in the 40-member Senate are up every four years. And Cote correctly noted that an average of 17.25 Senate seats were uncontested in the last four elections. That’s an average of 43 percent per election, Cote said, consistent with Sarvis’ claim.

But Sarvis didn’t phrase his statement as an average. He said "every year" more than 40 percent of the seats in each chamber weren’t contested. So we have to look at each election year individually.

Here are the number of uncontested seats in biennial House elections since 1999, according to returns from the state Board of Elections:

  • 2013 -- 45

  • 2011 -- 63

  • 2009 -- 31

  • 2007 -- 59

  • 2005 -- 51

  • 2003 -- 61

  • 2001 -- 40

  • 1999 -- 48

Sarvis’ claim that "over" 40 seats went uncontested each cycle doesn’t hold up for 2009 and -- because it’s our job to be sticklers -- in 2001.

Here are the number of uncontested seats in quadrennial Senate elections since 1999:

  • 2011 -- 14

  • 2007 -- 17

  • 2003 -- 19

  • 1999 -- 19

Remember, the Senate has 40 members. Sarvis’ claim that more than 40 percent of the seats went uncontested each cycle sputters in the latest election, in 2011, when 35 percent the races had no competition.

Virginia’s not the only place where a significant percentage of state legislature races go uncontested each election year.

An October 2012 study from the College of William and Mary found that 39.7 percent of the 6,000 statehouse races across the country that year lacked competition between major party candidates.

The study examined the 44 states that had legislative races that year. Virginia wasn’t included because it holds General Assembly races in odd-numbered years.

The study said legislative redistricting -- in which lawmakers draw election maps and usually fashion safe districts for themselves -- discouraged competition for statehouse seats. That would carry over to Virginia, where lawmakers control redistricting, according to John J. McGlennon, a professor of government at the College of William and Mary who co-authored the report.

McGlennon said another factor deterring competition is that Virginia’s statehouse races occur in years when there are no presidential or congressional races. That means down-ballot candidates for the state legislature can’t ride a coattail effect into office, he said.

Our ruling

Sarvis said "every year" more than 40 percent of House and Senate seats have only one candidate.

Election figures generally back Sarvis. The only blip is that during a few years -- 2011 for the Senate, as well as 2009 and 2001 for the House -- the number of uncontested races didn’t quite hit the threshold Sarvis cited.

His point is basically correct but could use some additional information. We rate it Mostly True.