Elections in King County for county executive, County Council, assessor and director of elections would move to even-numbered years, in an effort to increase voter participation in local elections, under a new proposal in the Metropolitan King County Council.
The proposal, from Council Chair Claudia Balducci, would begin shifting election years for county-level officials in 2026, with all positions shifting to even-numbered years by 2028.
The proposal would amend the county’s charter — essentially the county’s constitution. It is scheduled to be introduced in the County Council on Tuesday. It would then need to be passed out of committee and approved by the full council, then placed on the ballot to be approved by voters in November.
King County has held odd-year elections for most county positions since at least the 1970s. County prosecutor, unlike the other positions, is a position created by the state constitution, not the county charter, so its elections are held in even years.
The move to even years is the latest proposal to shift election times or procedures in efforts to increase participation or to ensure the results most closely reflect the will of the electorate.
Last year, County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay proposed the county move to ranked-choice voting, where voters would rank candidates in order of preference, rather than just choosing one. That proposal stalled, but hasn’t been abandoned. Similar efforts in the state Legislature have also stalled.
There is a well-funded push in Seattle for a ballot initiative in November that would enable “approval voting” in city elections, allowing voters to choose more than one candidate in primary (but not general) elections.
And a push in the state Legislature this year would have ditched odd-year elections statewide, meaning all local elections like those for mayor, executive and city and county council would be held in even-numbered years. That proposal failed to advance.
The logic for moving more elections to even years is simple: More people vote in even years.
Going back to 2010, voter turnout statewide in odd-numbered general elections has averaged 43%. In even-numbered years, which feature high-profile congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections, turnout has averaged 74%.
King County has had the same spread: an average of 47% turnout in odd-numbered years and 77% in even-numbered years since 2010.
That means local officials like county executive and County Council members get elected by a much smaller share of the voting base than officials like state representatives, senators and governors.
The argument against the switch: Sharing a ballot with those high-profile races could mean local races have to struggle for attention and voters end up less informed.
Balducci, who’s sponsoring the measure, said she tries to be cautious with changes to the voting system (she’s not yet on board with ranked-choice voting) while looking for ways to expand participation.
But, she said, when you look at even- versus odd-numbered elections, “the case is pretty compelling.
“The difference in the number of people who vote is large,” she said.
The Northwest Progressive Institute, an advocacy group, brought the proposal to Balducci. A poll from the organization earlier this year found 52% of statewide voters favored nixing odd-year elections, 24% were opposed and 24% weren’t sure.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn plans to oppose the change, arguing that local races would be deprived of attention. Dunn also worried about making an already long ballot longer, increasing the possibility that voters will leave races at the bottom of the ballot blank.
“You move it to even-year elections, federal issues will eclipse local issues because that’s where all the money is spent, that’s where the attention goes,” said Dunn, who is running for the 8th Congressional District seat this year. “And people forget to talk about things like homelessness, land use, crime and transportation.”
He also worries about local campaigns having to compete for TV or radio time with federal campaigns, when advertising rates are much higher.
“That’s an incumbent protection plan to me,” Dunn said. “It’s people with existing name identification that are going to win those elections.”