Returning a ballot in the 2018 midterm election
Returning a ballot in the 2018 midterm election

A major­i­ty of vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton State would like to see bal­lot mea­sure and can­di­date elec­tions held only in even-num­bered years going for­ward, rather than spread out over both even and odd num­bered years, polling released today by NPI at a House State Gov­ern­ment & Trib­al Rela­tions com­mit­tee hear­ing shows.

52% of like­ly 2022 vot­ers sur­veyed about two months ago said they either strong­ly or some­what sup­port­ed doing away with elec­tions in odd-num­bered years, while 24% were opposed and anoth­er 24% were not sure. The find­ings demon­strate that vot­ers would wel­come pas­sage of House Bill 1727, which would move most items cur­rent­ly vot­ed on in odd-num­bered years to even years.

Spon­sored by Mia Gregerson, HB 1727 would mod­i­fy the state’s elec­tion statutes to require local juris­dic­tions like cities to hold their reg­u­lar­ly sched­uled elec­tions in even-num­bered years by 2028, although cities could also make the switch soon­er if they want­ed. Most places in Wash­ing­ton already elect their coun­ty lev­el posi­tions in even-num­bered years, although a few char­ter coun­ties (such as King, What­com, Clark, and Sno­homish) default to odd-num­bered years.

Here is the ques­tion we asked and the answers we received:

QUESTION: Do you strong­ly agree, some­what agree, some­what dis­agree, or strong­ly dis­agree with the fol­low­ing state­ment: Wash­ing­ton State should dis­con­tin­ue hold­ing elec­tions in odd-num­bered years and instead require cities, coun­ties, ports, school dis­tricts, and oth­er local gov­ern­ments to hold their elec­tions in even num­bered years, when state and fed­er­al offices are on the ballot?

ANSWERS:

  • Agree: 52%
    • Strong­ly agree: 31%
    • Some­what agree: 21%
  • Dis­agree: 24% 
    • Some­what dis­agree: 13%
    • Strong­ly dis­agree: 11%
  • Not sure: 24%

Our sur­vey of 909 like­ly 2022 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Wednes­day, Novem­ber 10th through Thurs­day, Novem­ber 11th, 2021.

It uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines (50%) and text mes­sage answers from cell phone only respon­dents (50%).

The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

More infor­ma­tion about the survey’s method­ol­o­gy is avail­able here.

HB 1727, which had its pub­lic hear­ing this morn­ing, is one of NPI’s top leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties for 2022. The bill would both address the per­sis­tent prob­lem of elec­tion fatigue as well as increase turnout in crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant local races.

Unlike coun­ties, cities and oth­er local juris­dic­tions do not have the free­dom to move their reg­u­lar­ly sched­uled elec­tions to even-num­bered years because state law cur­rent­ly does­n’t allow it. HB 1727 would fix that problem.

Addi­tion­al­ly, under HB 1727, statewide bal­lot mea­sures would only be con­sid­ered every oth­er year, effec­tive­ly ensur­ing that ini­tia­tives, ref­er­en­da, and con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments would be vot­ed on by the elec­toral equiv­a­lent of a leg­isla­tive quo­rum (greater than fifty per­cent) rather than a sub­ma­jor­i­ty of the electorate.

As it so hap­pens, this is actu­al­ly the sys­tem that Wash­ing­ton used to have, from the 1910s when the ini­tia­tive and ref­er­en­dum were added to the Con­sti­tu­tion, until the 1970s, when state law was unwise­ly changed to pro­vide for state-lev­el gen­er­al elec­tions every year instead of just in even-num­bered years.

It’s also the sys­tem that our neigh­bor Ore­gon uses.

We now have decades of vot­er turnout data show­ing that vot­ers sim­ply don’t turn out in any­where the same num­bers in odd-num­bered years as even-num­bered years. And the prob­lem is get­ting worse: each of the odd-year gen­er­al elec­tions in the last ten years ranks among the top ten worst in terms of turnout in state his­to­ry. 2021 was the third worst, 2019 was the eighth worst, 2017 was the worst, 2015 was the sec­ond worst, and 2013 was the ninth worst.

Turnout in odd-num­bered years has con­tin­ued to be awful even as turnout in even-num­bered years has gone up. Wash­ing­ton saw very healthy turnout in both the 2018 midterm and 2020 pres­i­den­tial cycles, aid­ed by pre­paid postage on bal­lot return envelopes, more drop box­es, and the avail­abil­i­ty of same-day vot­er reg­is­tra­tion. Vot­ing has only got­ten eas­i­er in Wash­ing­ton, yet vot­ers are not vot­ing con­sis­tent­ly. They’re send­ing a mes­sage: Few­er elec­tions, please!

We need to listen.

As the old adage goes, less is more. And in this case, less is bet­ter, too.

We will see greater and more con­sis­tent par­tic­i­pa­tion across local elec­tions if we pass this bill. All of the data we have, includ­ing this new polling and the vot­er turnout data I just men­tioned sug­gests that vot­ers want this change.

Vot­ers would rather elect fed­er­al, state, and local posi­tions togeth­er in even-num­bered years than keep the bro­ken, bifur­cat­ed sys­tem we have.

Our mes­sage to state law­mak­ers is sim­ple: Let’s get off this roller coast­er and reduce elec­tion fatigue by phas­ing out odd year elec­tions. We urge the House Com­mit­tee on State Gov­ern­ment and Trib­al Rela­tions to give HB 1727 a do pass rec­om­men­da­tion and send it on up to House lead­er­ship for fur­ther consideration.

Fur­ther reading:

Our thanks to Shore­line City Coun­cilmem­ber Chris Roberts, King Coun­ty Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair Shasti Con­rad, for­mer Seat­tle May­or Mike McGinn, and every­body else who joined us this morn­ing on Zoom to urge pas­sage of HB 1727.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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