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

Thursday, February 8th, 2024

VICTORY! Washington State House passes NPI’s even year elections for localities bill

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:

Roll Call
HB 1932
Even-num­bered year elections
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage
2/8/2024

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!

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2 Comments

  1. Does this leg­is­la­tion include Feb­ru­ary spe­cial elec­tions for schools and emer­gency ser­vices? Those raise tax­es and get even low­er turnouts — 12% in the last Van­cou­ver dead-of-win­ter election.
    Thanks.

    # by Tom Knappenberger :: February 9th, 2024 at 8:46 PM
    • It does not. How­ev­er, NPI sup­ports get­ting rid of the Feb­ru­ary and April spe­cial elec­tion win­dows, and will in the future be work­ing on leg­is­la­tion to abol­ish them and move the Top Two elec­tion ear­li­er in the year. One step at a time.

      # by Andrew Villeneuve :: February 10th, 2024 at 10:55 AM

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