A proposed change to King County’s plan of government that would shift elections for twelve key county positions from odd-numbered to even-years is crushing it in initial returns with 69.17%, which suggests it will ultimately be adopted when the November 2022 general election is certified later this month.
King County Charter Amendment 1 (2022), conceived here at the Northwest Progressive Institute and supported by the NPI-organized Coalition for Even Year Elections, was submitted to voters on a 7–2 vote by the King County Council last summer. Sponsored by Council Chair Claudia Balducci, the measure enjoyed a smooth and drama-free campaign that was free of any organized opposition.
No one wrote a voter’s pamphlet statement opposing the amendment or engaged in any electioneering opposing it. Aside from a few media interviews given by King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, one of the two nay votes on the Council, no one tried to make a case against Charter Amendment 1 to the public.
That’s because, as The Seattle Times, The Stranger, and The Urbanist all recognized, Charter Amendment 1 just makes sense.
It aligns all county elections in years when most voters turn out and when turnout is far more diverse: years like 2020 or 2022, which are known as midterm and presidential years due to federal offices appearing on the ballot.
Electing county officials in even years is actually the norm in Washington State and has been a very long time. Thirty-six out of thirty-nine counties already do it. But home rule charter counties have the freedom to deviate from the norm, and three currently do: King, Snohomish, and Whatcom. Thanks to voters’ enthusiasm for this charter amendment, King County is now set to abandon the practice, leaving just Snohomish and Whatcom with nonstandard timing.
The switch will be implemented by temporarily changing terms for county offices to a duration of three years in each. In 2023, King County voters will elect an Assessor, an Elections Director, and four Council positions (in Districts 2, 4, 6, and 8) to three-year terms. In 2026, those positions will then come up in an even-year cycle. The terms will then revert back to four years. So, the offices that were on the ballot in 2015, 2019, and due to be on the ballot next year will in the future be contested in midterm cycles: 2026, 2030, 2034, 2038, and so on.
In 2025, King County voters will elect an Executive and five Council positions (in Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9) to three-year terms. In 2028, those positions will come up in an even-year cycle for the first time and revert back to four year terms. So, the offices that were on the ballot in 2017 and 2021 will in the future be contested in presidential cycles: 2028, 2032, 2036, 2040, and so on.
Turnout in these county elections could as much as double by the end of the decade as a result of the switch, all because of adopting even-year timing.
It’s especially exciting that King County voters will get to elect their Executive in presidential years, when turnout is consistently the highest it ever gets. This is what Pierce County already does and it works well. Electing the King County Executive at the same time as the Governor of Washington State and the President of the United States will mean that people in King County will get to vote for their executive representation at three levels in the same cycle.
Our team at NPI is incredibly grateful to everyone who made this possible, especially our legislative champions, Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Girmay Zahilay. Without Council Chair Balducci’s leadership, this charter amendment could not have happened. Her sponsorship, enthusiasm, and thoughtful advocacy were crucial to our success. And Councilmember Zahilay’s energy and eloquence were also huge for our campaign. Councilmember Zahilay recorded our video voter’s pamphlet statement, for instance, and it knocked it out of the ballpark.
A big thanks also to Councilmembers Rod Dembowski, Sarah Perry, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Joe McDermott, and Dave Upthegrove for gladly supporting the amendment and ensuring voters got a chance to consider it this year.
Our friends at the Washington Community Alliance helped put the campaign committee together and spoke before the Council in favor of its submission to voters. So did More Equitable Democracy, which generously provided funding for the campaign. The team at Win/Win were instrumental in ensuring our get-out-the-vote mass texting campaign was successful plus writing letters to the editor.
The Washington Bus, the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County, Washington For Equitable Representation, and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle signed on early to advocate for the amendment before the Council and then helped make the case to voters in the weeks leading up to tonight.
The Urban League’s Jude Ahmed and the Bus’ Jazmine Smith spoke at the campaign ballot drop week kickoff press conference along with Newcastle City Councilmember Paul Charbonneau, the youngest elected official in King County.
Alan Durning and the Sightline Institute brought their considerable research expertise to the effort and helped us make a good pitch for the measure.
Seattle Pride, the Transit Riders Union, OneAmerica Votes, and the King County Democrats endorsed the campaign and helped secure support for it, as did Shoreline City Councilmember Chris Roberts, a longtime friend of ours, who has written here about the need to switch to even-year elections.
Jason Bennett and Argo Strategies handled our treasury and compliance needs with great attention and care. NPI strongly recommends Argo if you need a first-rate treasurer and you’re a running an electoral campaign.
DJT Consulting helped keep our coalition organized and moving forward as the campaign season unfolded. They’re really great to work with.
Professor Zoltan Hajnal of UC San Diego endorsed our proposal and appeared before the King County Council to make the case for its adoption.
NPI’s own Legislative Director Kathy Sakahara did a superb job organizing testimony and convening strategy sessions for the amendment, then after it qualified, graciously opened up her home for a coalition house party to accelerate the campaign into the home stretch, which was a delightful event.
The whole NPI team is thrilled to have reached this point. We’ve truly changed King County elections for the better. We’re now just a few years away from electing all of our county positions in years when turnout is higher and more diverse!