NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 21st, 2022

The people have spoken, and they want even-year elections for local government positions

This year, one of NPI’s top advo­ca­cy pri­or­i­ties was to give the peo­ple of King Coun­ty an oppor­tu­ni­ty to strength­en our democ­ra­cy by mov­ing elec­tions for twelve key coun­ty posi­tions from odd years to even years, when turnout is much high­er and more diverse. Work­ing with Coun­cil Chair Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci and Coun­cilmem­ber Gir­may Zahi­lay, we devel­oped a char­ter amend­ment to imple­ment a switch to even year elec­tions that the Coun­cil vot­ed 7–2 to refer to voters.

Our polling has con­sis­tent­ly found strong sup­port for even-year elec­tions, but it was still a great thrill to open the King Coun­ty elec­tions results file on Novem­ber 8th and see that our char­ter amend­ment had the sup­port of more than 69% of vot­ers… sup­port that has not dimin­ished as count­ing has gone on.

With 892,158 bal­lots now count­ed, King Coun­ty Elec­tions reports that 560,783 peo­ple have vot­ed for the switch to even-year elec­tions, while 246,490 vot­ed no. That’s a mar­gin of more than 2:1. Very few out­stand­ing bal­lots now remain to be count­ed, so the mar­gin will see almost no change between now and certification.

In pol­i­tics, a twen­ty-point spread is con­sid­ered a land­slide. The spread for Char­ter Amend­ment 1 is near­ly twice that: forty points. Giv­en our research and the lack of orga­nized oppo­si­tion, we were very opti­mistic we’d do well. Yet our elec­toral per­for­mance was even bet­ter than what the polling sug­gest­ed it could be.

We know that elec­tion fatigue is a real prob­lem and that there is a grow­ing turnout gap between odd and even years. Our amend­ment rep­re­sent­ed a his­toric ini­tial effort to give vot­ers in a pop­u­lous swath of the Pacif­ic North­west the pow­er to decide when future elec­tions for impor­tant local gov­ern­ment posi­tions should be held. Vot­ers had a choice: stick with the sta­tus quo, or make a change.

They chose to make a change.

As a con­se­quence, by the end of this decade, King Coun­ty will elect all of its coun­ty posi­tions in even years for the first time since it became a home rule char­ter coun­ty in 1969. The coun­ty already elects its Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney and Supe­ri­or Court judges in even years. Going for­ward, Exec­u­tive, Asses­sor, Elec­tions Direc­tor, and Coun­cil will also be elect­ed in even years. In 2026 and 2028, for the first time in gen­er­a­tions, the coun­ty’s exec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive lead­er­ship will be cho­sen in cycles when we can be con­fi­dent of turnout exceed­ing fifty percent.

For exam­ple, instead of only hun­dreds of thou­sands of vot­ers weigh­ing in on who our Exec­u­tive should be, we’ll like­ly have over a mil­lion vot­ers weigh­ing in.

Even-year elec­tions are actu­al­ly the norm for coun­ties in Wash­ing­ton, but char­ter coun­ties can devi­ate from the norm if they wish to, and King Coun­ty cur­rent­ly does, along with Sno­homish and What­com coun­ties. But not for much longer!

The pas­sage of King Coun­ty Char­ter Amend­ment 1 is part of a nation­wide suc­cess sto­ry in these midterms. There’s a grow­ing move­ment in this coun­try favor­ing even-year elec­tions that had a clean sweep in 2022, with a total of thir­teen even-year elec­tion mea­sures iden­ti­fied by Bal­lot­pe­dia all win­ning approval. Plus, vot­ers in Port­land, Ore­gon said yes to a pro­pos­al to over­haul city gov­ern­ment and align­ing city elec­tions in even years.

Take a look:

Bal­lot MeasureTypeSta­tus
Arca­dia, Cal­i­for­nia, Mea­sure CA, Elec­tion Mea­sure (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
Boul­der, Col­orado, Ques­tion 2E, Move Odd-Year Munic­i­pal Elec­tions to Coin­cide With Even-Year State and Nation­al Elec­tions Mea­sure (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
Comp­ton, Cal­i­for­nia, Mea­sure ED, Munic­i­pal Elec­tion Date Change Mea­sure (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
Fort Collins, Col­orado, Bal­lot Ques­tion 2B, Move Odd-Year Munic­i­pal Elec­tions to Coin­cide With Even-Year State and Nation­al Elec­tions Amend­ment (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
King Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton, Char­ter Amend­ment 1, Even-Year Coun­ty Elec­tions Mea­sure (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, Mea­sure LBC, Change Pri­ma­ry and Gen­er­al City Elec­tion Dates Amend­ment (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
Long Beach Uni­fied School Dis­trict, Cal­i­for­nia, Mea­sure LBU, Change Pri­ma­ry and Gen­er­al Dis­trict Elec­tion Dates Amend­ment (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
Modesto, Cal­i­for­nia, Mea­sure G, City Char­ter Amend­ments Mea­sure (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
Pomona, Cal­i­for­nia, Mea­sure PL, City Char­ter Amend­ment for Local Pri­ma­ry Mea­sure (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
Red­wood City, Cal­i­for­nia, Mea­sure Z, Elec­tion Pro­ce­dures Char­ter Amend­ment (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
San Fran­cis­co, Cal­i­for­nia, Propo­si­tion H, Move Local Elec­tions to Even-Num­bered Years and Change Ini­tia­tive Peti­tion Sig­na­ture Require­ments Amend­ment (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved
San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, Mea­sure B, May­or Elec­tions Char­ter Amend­ment (June 2022)Refer­ralApproved
St. Peters­burg, Flori­da, Char­ter Amend­ment 1, Move Odd-Year Munic­i­pal Elec­tions to Coin­cide With Even-Year State and Nation­al Elec­tions Mea­sure (Novem­ber 2022)Refer­ralApproved

These results could­n’t be clear­er. The peo­ple have spo­ken, and they want even-year elec­tions for local gov­ern­ment positions. 

From San Fran­cis­co to Boul­der to St. Peters­burg to King Coun­ty, the result was the same: Approved, Approved, Approved, Approved!

Our team knows there are coun­ty audi­tors, elect­ed offi­cials, and activists out there who are skep­ti­cal about switch­ing to even-year elections.

We’ve heard their con­cerns at pub­lic hear­ings, in can­di­date forums, and in pol­i­cy meet­ings, and we have ideas for address­ing many of them.

We urge those who have expressed oppo­si­tion to even-year elec­tions to rec­og­nize that this is some­thing vot­ers want. To all those who think like Rea­gan Dunn does, we ask: Can you fig­ure out how to get to “yes” instead of just say­ing “no”?

A major­i­ty of the elec­torate has been con­sis­tent­ly send­ing a mes­sage by not par­tic­i­pat­ing every year: We don’t like this sys­tem. Please sim­pli­fy our elec­tions!

Par­tic­i­pa­tion is impor­tant to the health of a democ­ra­cy. We don’t have com­pul­so­ry vot­ing here in the Unit­ed States, and unless we want to fol­low Aus­trali­a’s exam­ple and imple­ment that pol­i­cy, we need to fig­ure out how to make vot­ing as sim­ple and mean­ing­ful as pos­si­ble. That means address­ing elec­tion fatigue.

Even-year elec­tions for local gov­ern­ment posi­tions are a nec­es­sary and vital reform. Aca­d­e­m­ic research has con­firmed that noth­ing rais­es and diver­si­fies turnout like chang­ing the tim­ing to align with state and fed­er­al elec­tions.

In Wash­ing­ton, we’ve imple­ment­ed same-day vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, pre­paid postage on bal­lot return envelopes, added drop box­es, and increased vot­er out­reach, yet turnout in odd years has con­tin­ued to drop. 2017 saw the worst-ever turnout in state his­to­ry, 2015 was the sec­ond worst, and 2021 was the third worst. 2019 and 2013 also rank among the top ten worst turnouts in state history.

Our team does­n’t know the future, but if the trend holds, 2023 will be dis­mal too.

In con­trast, even year turnout has been much healthier.

2018 saw near record turnout for a midterm and 2020 saw near record turnout for a pres­i­den­tial cycle. 2022 won’t set records, but statewide turnout is now 62.98%, which is bet­ter than 2006 or 2014, and bet­ter than every sin­gle odd-num­bered year going back to the 1970s except for one — the 1991 general.

Every time we com­pare turnout for a down­bal­lot local office in an even year to turnout for a sim­i­lar post in an odd year, the even year turnout is marked­ly better.

Here’s a fresh com­par­i­son for you: In King Coun­ty, 788,318 bal­lots have been tab­u­lat­ed so far for Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney (Leesa Man­ion, Jim Fer­rell, or a write-in can­di­date). That’s 215,407 more votes than were cast in a com­pet­i­tive race for King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive just one a year ago. That’s the dif­fer­ence tim­ing makes!

We know from our own research that vot­ers across Wash­ing­ton are enthused and intrigued about even year elec­tions, not just in King Coun­ty. We stand ready to work with the Leg­is­la­ture in 2023 and 2024 to ensure that more local gov­ern­ment posi­tions become eli­gi­ble for a switch to elec­tions in even-num­bered years.

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