NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 27th, 2020

Evidence shows local races would benefit from being moved to even-numbered years

Edi­tor’s Note: We’re hon­ored to wel­come our friend Shore­line City Coun­cilmem­ber Chris Roberts to the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate to share his per­spec­tive in sup­port of our top elec­toral reform pri­or­i­ty — phas­ing out elec­tions in odd-num­bered years, when turnout is often well below a major­i­ty. Chris has a PhD in Polit­i­cal Sci­ence and teach­es Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics at Pierce Col­lege.

As a city coun­cilmem­ber in Shore­line, I believe that it is impor­tant that we strive to include as many res­i­dents as pos­si­ble in our elec­toral process­es.

Vot­er par­tic­i­pa­tion is the key to our demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety. As Amer­i­cans, we have and we con­tin­ue to fight for access to the bal­lot, and I applaud the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture for reduc­ing bar­ri­ers to vot­ing over the past few years.

There is more we can do to improve our democ­ra­cy. But, the sin­gle, most effec­tive way to make sure that our rep­re­sen­ta­tives best reflect the val­ues of their con­stituen­cy is to move local elec­tions to even-num­bered years.

I appre­ci­ate State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mia Gregerson and Sen­a­tor Joe Nguyen for spon­sor­ing leg­is­la­tion this ses­sion that would move most local and state elec­tions from odd-num­bered to even-num­bered years.

These bills, HB 2529 and SB 6503, will empow­er vot­ers across Wash­ing­ton State. We know, look­ing at vot­er turnout in Wash­ing­ton State, and evi­dent in oth­er states, that more peo­ple vote in even-year elec­tions, and those vot­ers often bet­ter rep­re­sent the demo­graph­ics of their com­mu­ni­ties.

The boost in turnout in even num­bered years is not the­o­ret­i­cal. We’ve seen the dif­fer­ence in turnout when the elec­tion has been in even-num­bered years.

  • In 2014, over 201,000 vot­ers cast a vote in the Sno­homish Coun­ty Exec­u­tive race to fill an unex­pired term.
    • In 2015, just over 132,000 vot­ers cast a vote in the same race.
  • In 2014, over 19,000 vot­ers cast a vote for Everett City Coun­cil, Posi­tion 7.
    • The next year, just 12,000 vot­ers did.

These results are sim­i­lar to stud­ies of Cal­i­for­nia cities since they switched to even-year elec­tions. What we see is that turnout goes up across all demo­graph­ics, espe­cial­ly among younger vot­ers, renters, and peo­ple of col­or.

Con­cerns have been raised about mov­ing local elec­tions to even-num­bered years. How­ev­er, many of those con­cerns sim­ply do not hold up to scruti­ny.

Stud­ies of elec­tions in Wash­ing­ton State and else­where do not show a rise in under­votes for local races. Between 2006 and 2015, the cities of Everett (twice), Marysville, Lyn­nwood, Mill Creek, Mon­roe (twice), Muk­il­teo, and Mount­lake Ter­race each held an elec­tion in an even-num­bered year. In all but one case, the under­vote in those elec­tions was small­er those in odd-num­bered years.

So, despite the longer bal­lots in even-num­bered years, Wash­ing­ton vot­ers will vote for fed­er­al can­di­dates and for local can­di­dates down the bal­lot.

We know there is more media atten­tion and cam­paign spend­ing on elec­tions held in even-num­bered years. The amount of mon­ey spent on edu­cat­ing and mobi­liz­ing vot­ers in even-num­bered years by can­di­dates in Wash­ing­ton State is near­ly three times greater than that spent in odd-num­bered years.

And fill­ing local posi­tions in odd-num­bered years has not led to high-qual­i­ty cov­er­age of local pol­i­tics and elec­tions. The Seat­tle Times did not pub­lish a sin­gle arti­cle about the Burien, Shore­line, or Sam­mamish City Coun­cil races in 2019, and has not pub­lished any arti­cle about local elec­tions in Shore­line since 2009.

The evi­dence demon­strates that vot­ers are more empow­ered and informed when elec­tions are held in even-num­bered years as opposed to odd-num­bered years.

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  1. […] and she’s prime spon­sor on eleven bills this year, includ­ing some of the most talked about leg­is­la­tion this […]

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