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News / Opinion / Columns

Other Papers Say: Don’t move years for elections

By The Seattle Times
Published: February 24, 2024, 6:01am

The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:

State lawmakers who support moving the elections of mayors, city council members and other local leaders to even-numbered years say the goal is to increase voter turnout in those races. But the move is an administrative nightmare for election offices and actually a disservice to voters.

House Bill 1932, which recently passed the House, would allow municipal and special districts to move elections away from years that end in odd numbers. Even-numbered years featuring high-profile races like those for president, Congress and the Legislature bring out far more voters, their thinking goes.

Unfortunately, the proponents’ pursuit for greater numbers in these local races will result in a Pyrrhic victory. Voters will be overwhelmed with choices in a state with a broad array of elected offices. More urgently, it will create election cycle gaps that will make it harder for administrators to retain and train workers.

The annual regularity of elections keeps the officials that run them across the state well-practiced and ahead of the latest challenges — and there are many. Just last fall, fentanyl was mailed anonymously to elections offices. New security against the drug was added in time for what promises to be a challenging election this fall.

If the bill passes, the effect on local elections will be to drown them out in a sea of candidates during even-numbered years. Votes for president, governor, Congress and the Legislature will take up the bandwidth for all but the most diligent of voters. Media coverage over airwaves, on the internet and in newspaper pages will struggle also to cover important mayoral and city council races.

The 50-plus year tradition of having city leaders elected in odd years shines a spotlight and brings attention to the most local of issues: housing, infrastructure, public safety, parks and more.

Last fall’s Seattle City Council races gave voters time to concentrate on municipal discourse, with many carefully contemplating the best candidate — on a primary ballot already crowded with 45 names pursuing seven seats — for the future of Seattle.

Most critically, though, is the cadence of democracy that keeps Washington’s elections well-oiled. Our state depends on seasoned election workers. Limiting odd-year elections will place Washington’s counties in a budgetary bind to ensure they even have the capacity to staff a more uneven workload.

Elections administrations will have to solve some logistical hurdles, including the possibility of processing multiple-page ballots, if the bill passes.

The Washington State Association of County Auditors opposes the bill, as does Secretary of State Steve Hobbs. Their voices, as the ones conducting the elections, should matter. As the bill moves to the Senate for discussion, lawmakers should take their advice and deny the bill’s passage.