This morning, the Washington State House of Representatives took a historic bipartisan step towards a healthier democracy when it passed legislation developed by the Northwest Progressive Institute and State Representative Mia Gregerson that would allow localities now required to hold their regularly scheduled elections in odd years to switch to higher turnout even years.
House Bill 1932, first introduced about a month ago, received the support of fifty-two state representatives, with forty-five in opposition and one excused.
The legislation is NPI’s top priority for the 2024 legislative session and is also enthusiastically supported by the Washington Voting Justice Coalition, Washington For Equitable Representation, and the Sightline Institute.
“This is about addressing disparities in participation,” said Gregerson in a statement published by the House Democratic caucus, observing that odd year turnouts are often just a fraction of what they are in even years, resulting in local leaders being chosen by a few rather than the many. “It’s about ensuring that elections reflect the broader population and foster inclusive governance.”
It has been over a decade since a majority of Washington voters turned out in an odd year. Each election held since 2011 ranks among the top ten worst voter turnouts in Washington State history: 2023 is the worst, 2017 is the second worst, 2015 is the third worst, 2021 is the fourth worst, 2019 is the ninth worst, and 2013 is the tenth worst. The trend shows no sign of changing. Fewer than two in five Washington voters are now regularly participating in odd year elections.
Election fatigue is what is at the root of the turnout crisis. It’s a grave problem for democracy we cannot continue to ignore. Local leaders make critical decisions about land use, transportation, housing, public safety, and a host of other issues. They should be chosen by the broadest and most diverse electorate possible.
HB 1932 is based on Senate Bill 5723, drafted by NPI and introduced by Senator Javier Valdez last session. The key difference between SB 5723 and HB 1932 is that 1932 includes more levels of local government. 5723 only pertained to cities and towns. As passed by the House, 1932 would give ports, school districts, and other levels of local government that very same freedom to set their timing.
Some local governments — like Washington’s charter counties — already have the freedom to choose their electoral timing. And others — like code counties and public utility districts — are in even years by default. But cities, towns, ports, school districts, and others have no such freedom, because the Legislature unwisely took it away in the 1960s. Our legislation would give it back.
What we’re proposing has ample precedent.
1932 is a local options bill — switching would be entirely voluntary and at the local jurisdiction’s discretion. The current odd year default would not change, but localities wanting to move to even years would be able to give notice to the counties that they are located in and begin a switch either after getting voter approval or the approval of their governing body, again at their option.
To switch, localities would use bridge terms. So, a local office like mayor or city councilmember that normally has a term length of four years would be elected to a term of, say, three years once, and then revert back to its usual length.
“Local jurisdictions that elect to switch to even-numbered year elections would need to provide a transparent process, requiring two public hearings with a thirty-day gap before adoption. By encouraging community feedback and transparency, the bill ensures that decisions align with the collective will of residents,” the House Democratic caucus press release notes.
The idea to require two public hearings spaced thirty days apart was inspired by conversations we had with friends like Shoreline City Councilmember Chris Roberts, who has previously guest posted here on The Cascadia Advocate in support of allowing localities to switch their regular elections to even years. Our objective is to ensure that any locality making the change councilmanically does so only after giving people in that community a chance to weigh in.
Republicans proposed a slew of amendments to HB 1932, some of which, in our view, are good ideas we feel should be implemented separately, like providing more resources to county auditors to ensure their administrative and implementation concerns are addressed. Given the budget is the better vehicle for some of what Republicans proposed, and given that the studies of the switch they called for could be carried out without needing to obligate public agencies to conduct research, Democrats voted those amendments down.
Two amendments from Gregerson were adopted. One was a technical fix pertaining to municipal judges. The other allows local jurisdictions to switch back to odd years if they want, in keeping with the theme of local options.
The roll call was as follows:
Even-numbered year elections
3rd Reading & Final Passage
Yeas: 52; Nays: 45; Excused: 1
Voting Yea: Representatives Alvarado, Bateman, Berg, Bergquist, Berry, Callan, Cheney, Chopp, Cortes, Davis, Doglio, Donaghy, Duerr, Entenman, Farivar, Fey, Fitzgibbon, Fosse, Goodman, Gregerson, Hackney, Lekanoff, Macri, Mena, Nance, Ormsby, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Peterson, Pollet, Ramel, Ramos, Reed, Riccelli, Rule, Ryu, Santos, Senn, Shavers, Simmons, Slatter, Springer, Stearns, Stonier, Street, Taylor, Thai, Tharinger, Timmons, Walen, Jinkins
Voting Nay: Representatives Abbarno, Barkis, Barnard, Bronoske, Caldier, Chambers, Chapman, Christian, Connors, Corry, Couture, Dent, Dye, Eslick, Goehner, Graham, Griffey, Harris, Hutchins, Jacobsen, Klicker, Kloba, Kretz, Leavitt, Low, Maycumber, McClintock, McEntire, Morgan, Mosbrucker, Orcutt, Reeves, Robertson, Rude, Sandlin, Schmick, Schmidt, Steele, Stokesbary, Volz, Walsh, Waters, Wilcox, Wylie, Ybarra
Excused: Representative Chandler
Seven Democrats voted against the bill: Dan Bronoske, Shelley Kloba, Mari Leavitt, Melanie Morgan, Kristine Reeves, and Sharon Wylie.
One Republican, Greg Cheney, voted in favor, making the bill bipartisan — because it only takes one, as the old legislative saying goes.
HB 1932 now moves to the Washington State Senate. It will get a first reading soon, and then be referred to the State Government & Elections Committee, chaired by Senator Sam Hunt (D‑22nd District: Olympia). Vice Chair Javier Valdez, as mentioned, is the sponsor of HB 1932’s older sibling, SB 5723. We’re looking forward to working with Senator Valdez to advance HB 1932 in the Senate.
We are deeply grateful to everyone who worked with us to get this bill across the finish line, particularly the Washington Voting Justice Coalition and Washington For Equitable Representation, two coalitions we belong to, and Sightline Institute, led by our good friend Alan Durning, who has been a strong champion for more inclusive elections. Alan’s research on the penalty Washington municipalities are paying for being in odd years is a must-read if you haven’t seen it.
All of us are so very fortunate to have had a stalwart champion in Representative Mia Gregerson. Without her hard work and effective stewardship, we would not have been able to secure this victory today. Three cheers also to State Representatives Bill Ramos, Darya Farivar, Chris Stearns, and Sharlett Mena, the other members of the State Government Committee, and State Representative Dave Paul, who gave a great speech for HB 1932 on the floor of the House.
Even year elections are something voters really, really want.
Our state and local polling has consistently found strong support among Washingtonians for this voting justice reform, and in 2022, a whopping 69%+ of King County voters backed the charter amendment we put together with King County Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Girmay Zahilay to move twelve King County positions from odd to even years. King County has already begun that transition, which will conclude in 2028.
By approving HB 1932 today, the state House demonstrated that it is listening and ready to address the problem of election fatigue. Thank you, lawmakers!