MYNORTHWEST POLITICS

House passes bill shifting elections to even-numbered years

Feb 8, 2024, 6:03 PM

Image: An elections worker sorts unopened ballots at the King County Elections headquarters on Aug....

An elections worker sorts unopened ballots at the King County Elections headquarters on Aug. 4, 2020 in Renton. (Photo: David Ryder, Getty Images)

(Photo: David Ryder, Getty Images)

In a bid to enhance voter engagement and participation, local governments across the state could have a choice to shift their elections to even years and skip the odd years.

After an hour-long floor debate, the state House passed House Bill 1932 Thursday by a vote of 52-45 with one member excused. (A PDF of the substitute bill can be viewed here.)

Six Democrats joined all of the Republicans in voting against the bill. It’s one of the closest votes taken so during this legislative session.

“This is about choice,” Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-Des Moines, the bill’s sponsor, said.

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The bill will give cities, towns and certain special-purpose districts the option to hold their elections in even-numbered years instead of odd-numbered years.

Currently, odd-numbered years are primarily dedicated to local elections, while even-numbered years encompass statewide and national elections alongside certain local measures.

This discrepancy often results in lower voter turnout during odd-numbered years, prompting concerns about democratic representation at the local level.

“In districts like mine, where the majority are people of color, our voting rate is abysmal,” Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, said during the House floor debate. “The facts show us that in even-year elections, there’s a 22% increase in young voters and a 10% increase in voters of color. It is incumbent upon us to make voting as accessible as possible.”

Opposition to the election bill

Critics like Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, urged the chamber to reject the bill, stating skipping odd-year elections will make the ballot for even-year elections very long and cause “voter fatigue.”

“It’s just too much on the ballot to keep up with everything and understand who all the candidates and issues are to make an informed vote,” Orcutt said.

He and other Republicans like Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima, said races at the bottom of a long ballot, which tend to be local elections, will get overlooked because of voter fatigue.

“We need to protect odd-year elections so the important work of our local governments is highlighted, so people can make an informed decision and not be rushed to fill out a huge ballot that can be potentially confusing,” Corry said.

During testimony at the bill’s initial committee hearing, supporters said it will save taxpayers money because there will be fewer elections for local governments to finance.

Opponents said the bill could break a 50-year tradition in the state of having elections every year. Some small county auditors opposed the bill, saying they could lose election workers who depend on elections taking place every year.

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Flexibility to make the switch

Under the proposed bill, jurisdictions wishing to transition to even-numbered-year elections would have the flexibility to do so through various mechanisms.

The legislative body of the respective jurisdiction could adopt an ordinance or policy, or alternatively, voters could approve an ordinance or charter amendment referred to by the legislative body.

However, any decision to make the switch must be finalized before Jan. 15 of an odd-numbered year to take effect in that election cycle. Lawmakers eliminated a mandate in a previous version that said jurisdictions with voter turnouts below 40% in four consecutive general elections must switch to even-numbered year elections.

From here, the bill heads to the Senate for its consideration.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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