Today, our team at NPI is honored to be organizing an online-only panel at Netroots Nation 2023 titled “Even-Year Elections For All: How U.S. Localities are Raising Voter Turnout.” If you’re registered for Netroots Nation, we’d love to have you in the audience for this discussion; if not and you’d like to participate in the panel, here’s the link to register for Netroots Nation 2023!
Joining me to discuss how a simple timing change can significantly raise and diversify turnout in local elections are Kathay Feng of California Common Cause, Professor Zoltan Hajnal of the University of California San Diego, G. Agustin Markarian of Loyola University Chicago, and Chelsea Castellano of America Votes.
The synopsis of our panel is as follows:
In many places across the U.S., we have a big turnout problem in odd year local elections. Fatigued voters simply aren’t showing up to cast ballots, resulting in important local positions like mayor getting chosen by a smaller, older, whiter, and wealthier electorate. We know elections are fairer and more meaningful when they include as many of us as possible. That’s why a growing movement has been working to switch America’s localities to even year elections. With a simple timing change, we can both dramatically raise and diversify voter turnout in local elections. Join us for a discussion highlighting the 13 of 13 successful even-year ballot measures that passed in 2022 and strategies for bringing even-year elections to more localities.
NPI and the Coalition for Even-Year Elections organized one of those thirteen successful even year elections ballot measures mentioned in the synopsis: King County Charter Amendment 1. In the span of a year, we pulled Charter Amendment 1 together with the help of Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Girmay Zahilay, got it submitted to the voters, and ran a campaign supporting it that earned over 69% of the vote with no organized opposition.
Charter Amendment 1 is now being implemented. Six of twelve King County positions affected by the amendment (Elections Director, Assessor, and four Council) will be voted on in an odd year for the last time this August and/or November. The next time these positions come up will be in 2026, an even year, due to the terms being shortened to a three-year duration one time.
In 2025, the positions of Executive and five Council will then be voted on in an odd year for the last time, and they too will switch over to even years beginning in 2028, the next presidential election cycle. As a consequence, there will be hundreds of thousands of more voters deciding who our leaders should be.
Our team is now working on legislation to allow Washington cities to move their elections to even years if they’d like. Our bill, sponsored by Senator Javier Valdez, had a successful hearing in the 2023 legislative session and is now parked in the Senate Rules Committee. Bills from odd-numbered year sessions carry over to even-year ones, so when the Legislature reconvenes in 2024, we’ll be back at it, working to get this bill to Governor Inslee’s desk so that cities gain the freedom to decide when to hold their elections, as cities in other states already can.
We’re really happy to have the opportunity to bring together leaders from several different states to talk about how this national movement is finding success in every region of the country. Even-year elections are one of those rare ideas that have have robust cross-ideological support in highly polarized times.
Most Democratic voters, Republican voters, and independent voters across the country favor simplifying our system of elections to reduce election fatigue and align local elections with state and federal elections.
Their enthusiasm isn’t always shared by elections officials and legislators, though. That’s one of the things we’ll be talking about during today’s panel. Data confirms that many of the concerns opponents have about even-year elections for localities are unfounded, but awareness of that data can be lacking.
Fortunately, this is a solvable problem. During our panel, we’ll share best practices for how to initiate and continue a dialogue with elected officials who aren’t yet convinced of the merits of this voting justice reform. Again, here’s the link to register for Netroots Nation 2023 if you’d like to attend this and other great sessions!