A veteran will likely be on your election ballot this fall, but maybe not in the race you expected.

The study is the first comprehensive look at veterans’ political involvement on a state level and indicates that despite years of declining veteran representation in Congress, the pipeline of potential candidates for national office may be refilling.New research from the American Enterprise Institute found that roughly one in seven lawmakers serving in state legislatures is a veteran, totaling more than 1,000 former military members nationwide.

"I think it’s fair to think that we’ll see an increase in the number of veteran candidates at the federal level in coming years," said report author Rebecca Burgess, manager of AEI’s Program on American Citizenship and the report's author. "For some, state offices are like getting their feet wet."

With 23 percent, New Hampshire has the strongest veteran representation in a state legislature, followed closely by Nevada, Alabama, North Dakota and Tennessee. Utah, where only 5 percent of the state's elected leaders have military experience, ranks last. California, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Illinois round out the report's "Bottom Five," each with single-digit veteran representation in their state legislatures.

Veterans in Public Office, April 2016
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Numerous groups have raised concerns in recent years about the declining numbers of veterans seeking and winning congressional seats, especially as Congress deals with ever-more complex issues surrounding national security and military policy.

In 1971, veterans made up 72 percent of House seats and 78 percent of the Senate. In the latest Congress, only 20 percent of senators had served in the military, and only 18 percent of House members claimed military service.

Much of that decline is due to the all-volunteer force and the shrinking number of veterans in the country as a whole.

The state legislature survey found about 14 percent of the nearly 7,400 elected individuals nationwide have served, an even smaller percentage than in Congress. Veterans make up about 9 percent of the American population.

But Burgess said she sees the new numbers as a positive development, since they show steady involvement by veterans in politics across in a variety of positions. In some cases, individuals can be more effective at passing policy at state and local levels.

"Often [advocates] are so focused on the federal level that they don't think about the importance and impact of work at the state and local offices," she said.

The AEI's research found the majority of veterans in state legislatures are Republican, at more than a two-to-one ratio. That mirrors Congress the congressional level, where 70 percent of veterans in the Senate are Republican and 75 percent of veterans in the House hail from the GOP are Republican.

Burgess said she hopes to build on the findings with more historical data, to track connections between veterans in state office and federal elections.

The But the most important takeaway, she said, is that many veterans are continuing their service in elected office. Many of them just don’t have the national platform or attention, at least for now.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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