King County Council votes to move elections to even years
King County voters will see a new ballot measure this November, one that moves future county elections to even-numbered years.
Traditionally local elections have been held every other year in odd-numbered years, one year off of the national election cycle. With this new legislation, King County voters would elect federal, state, and local politicians all at once.
36 out of the 39 Washington counties already have their local elections in even years already, including the second-most populous county after King, Pierce.
Those advocating for the change argue that this will increase voter turnout, which will, in turn, increase the diversity of voices reflected in these local elections. One of the key sponsors for the bill was the Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI), whose executive director Andrew Villeneuve released a statement celebrating the bill’s passage out of the County Council and onto the ballot this November.
“Today, the King County Council voted to give the people of Washington’s largest jurisdiction the opportunity to strengthen our democracy and simplify our elections,” said Villeneuve.
When looking at the data released after each election cycle, there is a marked difference in voter turnout between even and odd election years, with an average of 1,076,000 voters during even years in King County compared to an average of 599,000 in odd years.
This same pattern can be seen in Pierce County’s elections as well, with an average of 175,000 voters in odd years and an average of 387,000 voters in even years.
The difference is in the last two County Executive elections, voter turnout is significantly lower in King County compared to Pierce County. Only 40% of registered voters in King County voted in the County Executive election in 2021, a number only slightly higher than the 39% voter turnout for the position in 2017.
Comparatively, in Pierce County, which votes for elected county positions in even years, 77% of registered voters participated in the County Executive election in 2020 and 67% in 2016.
In the 7-2 vote for the bill, most King County Councilmembers were in favor of the change, but two council members voted against holding elections in even years, Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer and Councilmember Reagan Dunn.
Dunn argues that this bill will not increase representation in local offices, but rather local issues will be drowned out by the larger federal and state elections.
“Asking voters to consider local and national elections in the same year is completely misguided and would allow the drama and partisanship of national politics to drown out the local, nuts-and-bolts issues that are integral to our daily lives such as homelessness, transportation, and crime,” Dunn said in his statement following the results.
On the Jason Rantz show, Dunn came on to explain how this would increase incumbency advantage, make gaining advertising airtime more difficult, and “bury the opposition party.”
“With all the media being paid for by the federal campaigns, the president, Senate Congress, Governor, there will be no available airtime for these local races. So quite frankly, if you’re on the county council, for example, it’ll be really hard to challenge an incumbent,” Dunn said.
A recent survey released by the Northwest Progressive Institute also found wide support for a move to even-year elections. Out of 909 registered Washington voters, 52% said they either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” with the proposal, while 24% said that they either “somewhat disagree” or “strongly disagree.” Another 24% said they were unsure.
When elections will be held, even years or odd, is now up to the people of King County with the bill on the ballot in November.