Washington News Service: Lawmakers in Olympia are considering a measure to significantly boost voter turnout in local elections.
In 2023, about 36% of Washington voters returned their ballots in local elections. (IanDewarPhotography/Adobe Stock)
House Bill 1932 would allow cities and towns in Washington to change their local elections from odd to even-numbered years. An analysis by the think tank Sightline Institute showed the switch could increase turnout by at least 60%.
Andrew Villeneuve, executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, said odd-year elections do not get people to the polls.
"They have very, very small numbers of voters participating, and it's also a much less diverse electorate than what we would see in an even year," Villeneuve observed. "There's fewer voters of color, fewer young voters participating."
The bill in the Legislature would allow cities and towns to choose if they would like to switch local elections to even-numbered years. Opponents of the measure, including Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, said it could dilute local elections and increase the workload for election staff in even-numbered years.
Villeneuve pointed out the state has increased voter turnout in a number of ways, including by adding drop boxes and using prepaid postage on ballots.
"Nothing moves the needle like timing," Villeneuve contended. "Changing the timing for local elections dramatically increases and diversifies the turnout. It's proven."
Contrary to what opponents of the bill said, Villeneuve believes elections in even-numbered years would increase the focus on local races.
"If you are dialed in, in an even year, and paying attention because of the national election, you are more likely to hear, actually, about your local candidates running in your area," Villeneuve argued. "Because you're going to be paying attention to what's out there."
House Bill 1932 needs to get out of the House by Feb. 13 to survive. The session ends on March 7.