Everett skyline
The skyline of Everett, Washington, as seen from the Everett Station. (Photo: Sounder Bruce, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

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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