Nov 8, 2023
MEDIA CONTACT: Alan Durning, Sightline Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org
OLYMPIA, WA – Every single city in the state of Washington suffers a markedly lower voter participation rate in its local elections because state law makes cities conduct those elections in odd-numbered years, according to new research from regional think tank Sightline Institute. The finding comes as cities and towns across Washington await results from their November 7, 2023, local elections.
Researchers calculated and mapped the “turnout penalty” for every city and town across Washington (population 10,000 or greater). State law requires them to conduct their local elections in odd-numbered years that are “off-cycle” from midterm and presidential election years. Sightline also found the “turnout bonus” that every legislative district enjoys because they hold their elections in even-numbered “on-cycle” years.
- Statewide, the penalty was more than 578,000 fewer votes—36 percent of turnout in the same cities—in the city elections of 2021 as compared with turnout in 2022’s midterms.
- Conversely, every Washington legislative district enjoys a voter turnout bonus because of its even-year elections. These bonuses averaged 62 percent in 2022, or 1.2 million more ballots.
Notably, the penalties and bonuses had no correlation to a city’s or district’s political makeup, size, location, or demographics.
Researchers note the state could remedy this disparity simply by allowing cities to hold their elections on-cycle if they wished to do so.
“Lining up elections with other major races isn’t just good for turnout; it’s more convenient for voters, it saves money, and it means that those who do win elections have the support of more of their constituents,” says Alan Durning, lead author of the research and executive director of Sightline Institute. “That’s better for voters and better for our democracy.”
Read the full analysis: In Every Washington City, Odd-Year Elections Crush Voter Turnout
- Idaho, Montana, and Washington could save $30 million by moving local elections to national Election Day | A preliminary estimate of potential cost savings from municipal election consolidation.
- Voters want fewer elections: Here’s how to do that | California, Arizona, and Nevada have shifted to even-year elections, boosting turnout and saving money—with lessons for other states.
- Hey, Olympia: If you let them, cities could double turnout in local elections | The case for freeing Washington cities to run elections on Election Day.
Alan Durning is the founder and Executive Director of Sightline Institute. His current topics of focus include housing affordability and democracy reform. Find his latest research here.
Sightline Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank providing leading original analysis of energy, housing, democracy, and forests policy in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, British Columbia, and beyond.