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Washington bill allowing even-numbered year elections only clears committee

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(The Center Square) – The Washington Senate State Government & Elections has voted to advance House Bill 1932, which would allow cities to move all their elections to even-numbered years. Backers say the bill is a way for local governments to increase voter turnout, though opponents on the committee believe the policy could cram too many issues onto a single year’s ballot.

HB 1932 originally cleared the House along party lines in a 52-44 vote. Initially, it would have allow special purpose districts and towns to move their elections to even-numbered years, and it would have required the shift if voter participation was below 40%. However, those provisions have been removed, leaving what supporters described as a voluntary option.

“This bill is an opt in,” Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, told colleagues at Tuesday’s committee meeting. “There’s no one being forced to do anything.”

Nevertheless, the bill had numerous proposed amendments, most of them sponsored by Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, and Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview. One of Fortunato’s amendments would have moved judge races to even-numbered years if there no other races on the ballot.

“We take out the city council races, so now what’s left?” he said. “If the only thing that’s left is judge races, I doubt we will be increasing the voter turnout for judges. The city councils are the thing that gets people concerned and involved, and they have a campaign.”

One amendment sponsored by Wilson would have restore citizen advisory votes on state tax increases. He also sponsored an amendment calling for a study of the impact on counties of switching to even-numbered years only.

He also pushed back against the claim that voter turnout is higher with even-numbered elections; one of his amendments would have required school district levies and bonds to be held during even-numbered years, but it was rejected by the committee.

“Let’s not single out what we think is fair.,” he said, later saying that “we’re playing a message here that simply has not been proven.”

The bill has been referred to the Rules Committee.

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