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caption: King County drop box.
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King County drop box.
Credit: Juan Pablo Chiquiza / KUOW

On the Ballot: Moving King County elections to even years

This week the King County Council voted to change how we vote in King County.

Here’s a hint: they want election years to be divisible by two.

King County has approved a charter amendment that would move the generally non-partisan county elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years. This would allow them to coincide with bigger elections — like the vote for president or governor.

Voters will decide whether the amendment happens this November.

As Crosscut State Politics Reporter Joseph O’Sullivan explains, this would mean a larger turnout of voters.

In 2021’s county executive race between Dow Constantine and Joe Nguyen, the turnout was roughly 573,000 voters. In contrast, the prosecuting attorney’s election in 2018 had a turnout of 968,000 voters.

“So nearly 400,000 more people voted in that county race in 2018, which wasn't even a big presidential election year,” O’Sullivan explained. “So, you can see, 570,000 voters for one race versus 970,000 voters for another race, even though they're not the same [office], you can just see that big disparity in turnout.”

But that larger number means a wider diversity of voters as well, and those extra voters usually lean more progressive.

“If you have a younger, less affluent electorate participating in local elections, you'd assume that would open up space for issues that might not be heard as much in a low turnout electorate,” explained Western Washington University Political Science Professor Todd Donovan.

One criticism of combining local elections with larger elections is that some voters may not pay attention to the items lower down on the ballot.

“How many people are actually going to be informed enough, or pay enough attention to the nonpartisan races, in the folks that come out to vote in a presidential or gubernatorial election?” Donovan asked.

If the amendment passes, it will take effect in 2023 — with elections taking place for a three-year term ending in 2026, and again in 2025, with those elections having the same three-year term ending in 2028.

The amendment will be on the ballot this November.