The Club has long been a proponent of consolidated elections, by which all elections are held in August or November of even numbered years. The purpose of consolidating election dates is to increase voter participation and to end the practice by some local governments of holding elections in March or May in order to avoid much needed scrutiny.
The first step toward this goal occurred in 2012 when the legislature passed HB2826 that required municipalities to hold candidate elections on the same dates as statewide elections. The increase in voter turnout was immediate:
Increased voter turnout is one benefit of reform. Consolidated elections save tax payers money. When cities hold theirs separate from the state they incur significant additional expenses in printing, voter education, notifications, facilities and staff costs, and postage. The City of Scottsdale moved to consolidate their elections two years prior to the state enacting its legislation. For them it was dollars that made sense – after amending their charter to consolidate their election in 2008 – the city saved their residents $110,000 in their 2010 election.
Given the proven success of higher voter participation and lower costs with the 2012 reforms, Representative Kevin Payne (D21) introduced HB2495, which would require that any proposed sales tax increase be voted on consolidated election dates as well. In other words, if a city desires to increase their local sales tax, the vote would have to occur in November of even numbered years.
Opponents to reform (local government and various special interests) cite the same arguments against consolidation that they have used for years. Moving elections mean local issues will compete for time, attention, resources, and ballot real estate with state and national races and matters. That somehow voters are better served when they can study these issues in isolation and are not “fatigued” by a long ballot, perhaps abandoning the “local issues” at the bottom of the ballot.
They are now using the bizarre claim that HB 2495 would imperil local government if there is an emergency and a new tax hike is needed. Aside from the general absurdity of an “emergency tax,” cities already have the authority to pass a tax increase without voter approval by a majority vote of their elected body. Mayors and Councilmembers, if they truly believe a tax increase is necessary, are free to vote for one, devoid of the political cover of “the will of the voters.”
Consolidated elections have been studied by historians, scholars and policymakers across the political and ideological spectrum, all reaching the same conclusion. Off-cycle elections in practice (and by design) reduce voter turnout and benefit organized special interest groups. No matter the political bent, organizations who stand to benefit most, are strategically served by low voter turnout. Organized groups are more likely to know about an off-cycle election that enriches themselves and their turnout has a much greater general impact on the overall election.
HB2495 is good public policy and deserves a YES vote. Consolidated elections have proven time and again to increase voter turnout, reduce costs and provides predictability and consistency to voters.