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?
- 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.
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.
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.
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