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Bipartisan Election Reform: Hold local, state and federal elections together
Sean Parnell • May 07, 2024

I’m happy that Save Our States is expanding to address other areas of election policy. As someone who’s worked for more than a decade and a half in this area, to paraphrase George Costanza’s father, I got a lot of election issues to share with with you people! Now, starting with this post, you're gonna hear about ‘em!

One common concern is extremely low turnout in many elections. Consider the most recent mayoral election in the nation’s largest city, New York. In 2020 with a presidential election on the ballot, about 3,045,000 voters turned to vote. In 2022 with Congressional races and the Governor’s mansion at stake, about 1,810,000 voters came out. Sandwiched in between was the mayoral election, held in November 2021. About 1,148,000 voters showed up, barely 23 percent of the city’s eligible voters.

New York’s dismal turnout for mayor’s races is hardly unique. A Manhattan Institute study from 2021 reported:

“…in November 2019, [Philadelphia’s mayor] had been reelected in a contest for which only 27% (286,904) of the city’s registered voters turned out. It’s not that voter turnout in Philadelphia is always so low: some 749,000 Philadelphia residents cast ballots in the November 2020 presidential election, more than 2.5 times the number who had voted in the previous year’s municipal election…

Philadelphia’s experience is by no means unique. In Chicago, the total turnout in the 2020 presidential election was 2.2 times higher than in its 2019 mayoral election. In Kansas City, Missouri, the same ratio was 2.0. In Boston, the ratio between turnout in the 2016 presidential election and the 2017 mayoral election was 2.5…”

One large city that has managed to avoid having its city elections plagued by low turnout is Los Angeles. In its most recent election in 2022, nearly 47 percent of eligible voters turned out and cast ballots in the mayoral race.

What sets Los Angeles apart? Unlike the other cities mentioned, it holds its mayoral election (as well as other city and county elections) on the same day as state and federal elections rather than “off-cycle.” Some of the above cities don’t even hold their elections in early November, the time of year when voters are at least accustomed to heading to the polls. Chicago’s most recent election was in late February 2023 (for the general election) and then early April for the runoff. Kansas City’s elections are in June.

The mayors of these cities lead administrations responsible for the needs of hundreds of thousands or millions of people, and control budgets of billions of dollars (New York City’s budget is nearly $100 billion), yet their elections feature turnout that can be a low as a quarter or fewer of eligible voters. For anybody concerned about low voter turnout, moving election day to when more than a narrow slice of the electorate turns out would be a good start.