King County Council Committee of the Whole
King County Council Committee of the Whole

A pro­posed change to King Coun­ty’s plan of gov­ern­ment that would align elec­tions for all coun­ty-lev­el offices in even-num­bered years is on track to go to vot­ers for poten­tial rat­i­fi­ca­tion this autumn after pass­ing out of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan King Coun­ty’s Com­mit­tee of the Whole today on a 7–2 vote.

Ordi­nance 2022–0180, con­ceived by our team at NPI and spon­sored by King Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci, would move elec­tions for Exec­u­tive, Asses­sor, Elec­tions Direc­tor, and Coun­cil from odd years to even years, when turnout is high­er and much more diverse. The shift would be accom­plished by mak­ing the next set of terms for each of the afore­men­tioned posi­tions three years in length and then revert­ing back to four year terms thereafter.

If adopt­ed by vot­ers, the amend­ment would ensure that King Coun­ty’s future lead­ers are cho­sen by the many instead of by a few.

In recent years, odd year vot­er turnout has rarely exceed­ed 45%, but in even years, turnout is con­sis­tent­ly above 70%. The Coun­cil’s own non­par­ti­san staff not­ed in their assess­ment of Ordi­nance 2022–0180 that if past trends hold, we’ll see more robust turnout by mak­ing the switch to even-year elections.

“Whether Coun­cil wants to increase vot­er turnout for the elec­tion of these coun­ty offices is a pol­i­cy deci­sion for the Coun­cil to make,” the staff report declared.

Today, the Coun­cil decid­ed that it does want to make the most of an oppor­tu­ni­ty to increase and diver­si­fy vot­er turnout. Sev­en coun­cilmem­bers vot­ed to send Ordi­nance 2022–0180 out of com­mit­tee with a “do pass” rec­om­men­da­tion, tee­ing up a final vote in the Coun­cil on June 28th, while two coun­cilmem­bers vot­ed no.

The roll call was as follows:

Vot­ing Yea: Coun­cilmem­bers Rod Dem­bows­ki (D1), Gir­may Zahi­lay (D2), Sarah Per­ry (D3), Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D4), Dave Upthe­grove (D5), Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci, Joe McDer­mott (D8)

Vot­ing Nay: Coun­cilmem­bers Pete von Reich­bauer (D7), Rea­gan Dunn (D9)

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan King Coun­ty Coun­cil is offi­cial­ly “non­par­ti­san,” but the Coun­cil’s sev­en-mem­ber major­i­ty all iden­ti­fy as Democ­rats, while von Reich­bauer and Dunn are Repub­li­cans. Dunn has made it clear for weeks that he’s strong­ly opposed to Ordi­nance 2022–0180. von Reich­bauer has been far less out­spo­ken, but was expect­ed to join Dunn in vot­ing no, and did so when it was his turn to vote.

The final vote to send the pro­posed change to vot­ers in a cou­ple of weeks is like­ly to be exact­ly the same. Once the Coun­cil com­pletes its work, the fate of the amend­ment will be in vot­ers’ hands. NPI and the Coali­tion For Even-Year Elec­tions are pre­pared to work to secure the amend­men­t’s pas­sage this autumn.

Many orga­ni­za­tions joined NPI in urg­ing the Coun­cil to give Ordi­nance 2022–0180 a “do pass” rec­om­men­da­tion, includ­ing the League of Women Vot­ers of Seat­tle-King Coun­ty, the Sight­line Insti­tute, Somos Mujeres Lati­nas, the Urban League of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton Com­mu­ni­ty Alliance, More Equi­table Democ­ra­cy, and Share the Cities. King Coun­ty Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair Shasti Con­rad and respect­ed elec­tion tim­ing expert Zoltan Haj­nal of UC San Diego also spoke in favor.

Coun­cilmem­ber Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci, the amend­men­t’s prime spon­sor, deliv­ered an excel­lent clos­ing speech for vot­ing yea dur­ing the debate over whether to advance it out of com­mit­tee, rebut­ting some of the bad argu­ments in oppo­si­tion offered by Coun­cilmem­ber Rea­gan Dunn. Dunn argued that the Coun­cil should reject the amend­ment because it could increase can­di­dates’ tele­vi­sion and radio adver­tis­ing costs and bury impor­tant local issues. Absurd­ly, Dunn also sug­gest­ed that hav­ing more peo­ple involved in elect­ing the coun­ty’s lead­ers would be a bad thing because those even year vot­ers might not be cast­ing informed votes!

Here’s what Bal­duc­ci said in response (tran­script edit­ed light­ly for clarity):

I will say that since since sur­fac­ing this pro­pos­al, the case for doing it has been extra­or­di­nar­i­ly compelling.

It’s based on data.

It’s based on research.

It’s based on what we know about what works to get more vot­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in select­ing their elect­ed representatives.

The oppos­ing argu­ments have been almost entire­ly based on par­ti­san­ship… based on the idea that one side or the oth­er would be dis­ad­van­taged by more peo­ple voting.

And I have to say: if more peo­ple vot­ing is bad for your can­di­da­cy, then, you know, the vot­ers should have a say!

The vot­ers should get to pick who they want to rep­re­sent them.

And sup­pres­sion is nev­er the right approach to win­ning an election.

The oth­er group of oppo­si­tion argu­ments have come from cam­paign insid­ers… peo­ple who are con­cerned about what does this mean for me run­ning a cam­paign or peo­ple who, in oth­er ways, make their mon­ey or get their offices out of run­ning campaigns.

Cam­paigns will adjust.

We will fig­ure it out.

We will fig­ure out how to get our mes­sage out to voters.

I sit here as some­body who was elect­ed, hav­ing been out­spent, when you count inde­pen­dent expen­di­tures and direct can­di­date fund­ing, by almost three-to-one.

And I was able to win because I did what cam­paigns do: I adjust­ed. I cam­paigned, as will oth­ers, with a lot of shoe leather. With a lot of vol­un­teers. With phone call­ing. With the old-fash­ioned methods.

And: We still were able, with the mon­ey that we raised, to do a fair amount of [paid] media.

I am not con­cerned that cam­paigns will not get their mes­sages out.

And I’ll say what I said before: I think that we over­es­ti­mate what most vot­ers do in odd-num­bered years in order to learn about the issues. I think peo­ple read their news­pa­pers, look at their vot­ers’ guides. They might col­lect some of those mail­ers that pile up on the kitchen table. And when the time comes, they pull out what­ev­er their favorite infor­ma­tion sources are.

And they look at the bal­lot — and they ask friends and family.

And they fill in the lit­tle bub­bles, as you said, and they do it based on the infor­ma­tion that is avail­able to them from their pre­ferred sources of infor­ma­tion. And peo­ple will still do that in even-num­bered years.

I don’t think you will see a tremen­dous drop-off in the lev­el of edu­ca­tion or knowl­edge of the vot­ers from odd years to even years.

So I haven’t heard any com­pelling argu­ments not to do this. I don’t know why we did­n’t do it before. And I just want to end by say­ing we are by far not going to be like on the cut­ting edge as coun­ties go. Most coun­ties in Wash­ing­ton State elect their coun­ty coun­cil mem­bers, exec­u­tives, and oth­er coun­ty offices in even years.

Pierce Coun­ty does it to the south, and they’re just fine.

And we’re just fine. And so I real­ly encour­age us to move this for­ward to the Coun­cil, and then at Coun­cil, to move it for­ward to the vot­ers to make up their minds. Thank you, colleagues.

We are thrilled to have the sup­port of a super­ma­jor­i­ty of the Coun­cil for this pro­posed change to King Coun­ty’s sys­tem of elections.

We already elect our Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney and Supe­ri­or Court judges in even years, and we can see that those con­tests are draw­ing far more vot­ers than the odd year elec­tions we have been hold­ing for Exec­u­tive, Asses­sor, Elec­tions Direc­tor, and Coun­ty Coun­cil. Align­ing all our elec­tions in midterm and pres­i­den­tial cycles will strength­en our democ­ra­cy and deep­en the rela­tion­ship between the peo­ple of King Coun­ty and their gov­ern­ment. It’s actu­al­ly the norm in Wash­ing­ton State for coun­ty offices to be cho­sen in even-num­bered years — thir­ty-six out of thir­ty-nine coun­ties already do it. It’s time King Coun­ty joined them.

Two years ago, when the Coun­cil major­i­ty sub­mit­ted a pack­age of sev­en char­ter changes to vot­ers, all of them were adopt­ed by vot­ers, despite some Repub­li­can oppo­si­tion. That expe­ri­ence showed that King Coun­ty vot­ers are keen­ly inter­est­ed in ideas to make their coun­ty gov­ern­ment func­tion more effec­tive­ly. This autumn, they’re slat­ed to get anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a change for the better.

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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