February 20th, 2024 2 Minute Read Press Release

New Model Policy Document: A Primer for Local Elections Consolidation

NEW YORK, NY — While the vast majority of states hold elections for state office on even-numbered years—what’s known as “on-cycle”—many local elections are not. These “off-cycle” elections often include general elections for city offices and school board elections. In a new policy document containing model legislation, Manhattan Institute fellow and director of cities John Ketcham and J.D. candidate at University of Pennsylvania Law School Austin Severns encourage state lawmakers to strongly consider consolidating the timing of local elections to coincide with federal elections on even-numbered years. 

Ketcham and Severns make the case that the advantages of consolidating on-cycle elections offer a rare opportunity to forge bipartisan support for electoral reform. First, moving to on-cycle will dramatically increase voter turnout for neglected local offices, like school boards and city councils. Turnout in off-cycle municipal elections can be more than 30 percentage points lower than if those elections are concurrent with the national cycle. Second, increased turnout can decrease the power of special interests in local government to represent the political preferences of the median voter more accurately. Third, when consolidated, local elections can be more cost-effective and secure. Finally, holding fewer elections is popular with voters. 

Opposition to election-timing consolidation centers on the fear of “down-ballot voting,” the possibility that voters motivated to participate in the presidential or other high-profile federal elections will vote reflexively for every local candidate on the ballot who shares the federal candidate’s party affiliation. Voters also might not vote in races that appear lower on the ballot, a phenomenon known as voter “roll-off.” But recent research assuages concerns about lopsided partisan effects, and real-world evidence suggests that the votes gained through local election consolidation more than make up for any roll-off. These concerns are, therefore, not sufficient to justify the cost, inconvenience, and special-interest empowerment that off-cycle elections impose on local democracy. 

Click here to view the model policy document. 


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