Editor’s Note: The following are NPI founder Andrew Villeneuve’s prepared remarks in support of House Bill 2529, legislation prime sponsored by State Representative Mia Gregerson and cosponsored by NPI’s own Gael Tarleton that seeks to implement one of NPI’s top electoral reform priorities.
Madam Chair, Ranking Member Walsh, Members of the Committee:
Good afternoon. For the record, my name is Andrew Villeneuve. I’m the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, based in Redmond. I thank you for hearing this bill; this is an important and timely discussion.
As state representatives, you all know that to pass a bill in this chamber, you need fifty votes. An absolute majority. It’s expressly required by Article II, Section 22 of the Washington State Constitution, written by our state’s founders in 1889:
No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.
Representatives, I’d like you to imagine for a few moments that this absolute majority vote requirement didn’t exist.
And for the purposes of this exercise, let’s imagine that the Constitution’s quorum requirement (Article II, Section 8) doesn’t exist either.
What would that mean? It would mean that just a handful of representatives could gather on the floor of the House and pass a bill all by themselves.
There are ninety-eight of you. But what if all it took to pass a bill was just twenty-five out of ninety-eight representatives present and voting aye, instead of fifty?
Or nineteen out of ninety-eight?
Would that be acceptable… a small submajority of the people’s representatives deciding what laws we should all live by?
That is akin to what happened a little over four years ago, in 2015, when 19.13% of Washington State’s registered voters voted yes on I‑1366. Fewer than one in five Washington voters voted for I‑1366, while over 80% either did not vote or voted no. And yet, I‑1366 passed anyway. Meanwhile, the other initiative on the ballot that year — Paul Allen’s I‑1401 — received the support of just 26.25% of the electorate, with nearly three fourths of voters not voting or voting no.
Such a thing would never have happened in Washington State’s early and middle years, because until the 1970s, we did not hold state-level elections in odd-numbered years. We only held them in even-numbered years.
We now have decades of data that demonstrate that this wasn’t a good idea.
The ten lowest turnout general elections in state history have all been in odd-numbered years. Going back to 1973, there have been twelve odd-year general elections where turnout surpassed fifty percent, and twelve where turnout was less than fifty percent. The future looks increasingly grim.
We haven’t had majority turnout in an odd-numbered year since 2011. The odds are that odd-numbered years will continue to be plagued by low turnout.
On the other hand, every single even numbered year election going back decades has had majority turnout. Midterm years regularly get over three-fifths turnout and presidential years sometimes get over four-fifths turnout.
Despite our recent work to eliminate barriers to voting during the last two years, turnout in last year’s election fell short of 50%. The majority who did not vote neglected to return ballots, but they sent us a message nevertheless.
The Framers of our Constitution envisioned a state with a government that operated on the democratic principle of majority rule with minority rights.
That’s why they wrote Sections 8 and 22 in Article II, the article of the Constitution that establishes the Washington State Legislature. These carefully crafted provisions provide that a majority of each house constitutes a quorum and a majority of each house is required to pass bills.
However, there are no constitutional provisions requiring a minimum voter turnout to pass initiatives. We could have voter turnout of just ten percent and have an initiative pass with only 5.01% percent of registered voters casting ballots.
Representatives, that makes no sense!
We could establish a minimum turnout requirement for initiatives and referenda by amending the Constitution. But this legislation offers us an easier and simpler means of ensuring that laws are being made by the many instead of by a few. This legislation ends an unsuccessful experiment begun in the 1970s and simplifies our system of elections by phasing out elections in odd numbered years.
This will regularly save us millions of dollars that could be devoted to other public services and significantly reduce voter fatigue in addition to ensuring that laws at the state level are considered or rejection with much higher levels of participation than what we saw in 2019, 2015, and other odd-numbered years.
Our neighbors south of the Columbia in Oregon get by just fine without state level elections in odd numbered years. They allow more time for initiative filing and signature gathering, as well, and we would do well to embrace that model.… which is, as mentioned, the model we used to have here in Washington as well.
Please give this bill a “do pass” recommendation so it continues to advance.