2024 Washington State Bills: Background

This year, several bills are being considered in the Washington State Legislature that would allow local jurisdictions that are currently barred by state law from holding their regular elections in high turnout even years to switch. These proposals are:

SB 5723 was drafted in 2023. House Bill 1882 is a companion of 5723, meaning it's identical. House Bill 1932 is based on SB 5723 but its original text has a few key differences.

Below, you'll find background on why this legislation is needed.

Why we need to make a change 

Data clearly demonstrates that turnout in local elections is much higher and more diverse when local positions are on the ballot in even-numbered years rather than odd ones. It's also very popular with voters: the Northwest Progressive Institute’s polling has previously found 2:1 support among likely voters with an opinion in Washington State, and thirteen out of thirteen measures on last year's ballot across the country to implement even year elections passed, including in King County, where 69% of voters said yes to a charter amendment created by NPI and County Councilmember Claudia Balducci to move elections for twelve county positions to even years.

What the legislation would do

Senate Bill 5723 (and the two House bills) would amend several state statutes to allow for cities and towns to switch their elections to even numbered years if they want to.

The default would remain odd-numbered years and no city or town would be required under the legislation to change the current system of elections that they have. To switch, a city or town wanting to switch could either adopt an ordinance councilmanically (meaning, by vote of the legislative body) or refer the question to voters. Upon successful passage, the city or town would notify the county or counties it is located in that it is switching.

If there is no vote of the people, the bill requires that the city or town hold at least two public hearings spaced thirty days apart to ensure the people of that city or town have ample opportunity to comment on the proposed changed.

How cities would switch

The bill requires that all cities and towns that switch do so in a consistent, uniform way: by electing their positions to bridge terms or transition terms that are one year shorter than usual. So, for example, for a city council position that is normally a four year term, there would be one final odd-year election in which the position was up for a three-year term. Cities and towns would continue to be able to stagger their positions between two different election cycles like they are today (e.g. at-large council positions in one cycle, district-based ones in another, or half in one cycle and half in another).

How we crafted the legislation

The team at the Northwest Progressive Institute, which sponsors the Coalition for Even-Year Elections, spoke with the Association of Washington Cities, the Secretary of State, King County Elections Director Julie Wise, and others during the course of drafting this bill to figure out the best mechanism for implementing the policy and identifying which statutes to amend (there are quite a few that assume municipal elections are held in odd-numbered years, in addition to RCW 29A.04.330!) Their feedback was invaluable.

Read our announcement post for more details.

Read the legislation

Download the one page quick overview

Coalition for Even-Year Elections

The Coalition is an alliance of voting justice organizations that support moving local elections in the Pacific Northwest and beyond to even-numbered years, when data shows voter turnout is much higher and more diverse. Experience has demonstrated that adopting even-year elections for localities does more for turnout than any other possible voting reform. It's also extremely popular with voters. Any organization that shares our principles is welcome to join us.