This November, voters in King County will have the opportunity to decide on Charter Amendment 1, a measure which would move the county’s elections from odd to even years to align with federal and state election cycles. If passed, races for King County Council, county executive, assessor and elections director would take place in even years, beginning in 2026. The election for King County prosecuting attorney already takes place in even years.
The charter amendment was first proposed earlier this year by King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci. The County Council voted on June 28 to put the measure on the ballot, with seven council members voting in favor and two voting against.
Balducci, who was initially skeptical of the idea, said that the difference in voter turnout persuaded her to propose the change.
“When I looked at the numbers, it’s a super compelling case,” she said. “Just by making one small change to how we do elections — very easy to do, not going to break the system in any way — we will increase the number of people who are voting by something like 30 to up to 50 percent.”
According to data from King County Elections, turnout across the county fell from 86.5 percent in the 2020 general election to just 44 percent in 2021. For younger voters, the disparity was even greater, with just 20.4 percent of voters aged 18-24 participating in the 2021 general election, compared to 74.9 percent in 2020.
Local left-leaning organizations such as the Northwest Progressive Institute have launched a campaign in support of the charter amendment, arguing that it would allow for more representative local elections.
Maren Turner, the executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Win|Win, argued that odd-year elections disproportionately disenfranchise young people and people of color.
“We know, for example, that during odd years, people — particularly younger people, people of color — tend not to turn out in disproportionate ways,” Turner said. “But in even years, they do turn out. The likelihood of them becoming engaged and turning out is, in some cases, three and four times greater.”
According to Asian Counseling and Referral Service Policy Manager Joseph Lachman, odd-year elections are less accessible since campaigns invest less in outreach to and language interpretation for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities during odd years. Lachman also said that there is less media attention during odd years and that holding elections every year can discourage voters.
While Republicans like King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn spoke against the proposed charter amendment back in June, opponents have largely failed to coalesce for the November general election. In fact, the King County Elections website reports that no committee has submitted a statement opposing the charter amendment for the county’s election guide that is mailed to voters.
Ballots will go out on Oct. 19. The deadline to register online is Oct. 31. Voters can access and print their ballot online. Ballots must be mailed or put in a drop box by 8 p.m. on Nov. 8 to be counted.
Guy Oron is the staff reporter for Real Change. Find them on Twitter, @GuyOron.
Read more of the Oct. 19-25, 2022 issue.