Elections

Washington voters back phasing out odd year elections by a 2:1 margin, with 24% unsure

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.

Andrew Villeneuve

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