Analysis

Local Jurisdictions Could Reduce Costs by Eliminating Off -Year Elections

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In 2013, Pew’s Election Data Dispatches explored the high cost of uncontested elections. Now, some states and localities are reducing or eliminating another type of costly, low-turnout election: off-year elections held when there is no presidential or congressional contest.

  • In San Francisco, Proposition D reduces the frequency of but does not eliminate off-year municipal elections. Most major city officials are elected every four years, with the next election scheduled for 2015. The city attorney and treasurer, however, were elected in different off years, with the next election scheduled for 2017. Under Proposition D, passed in 2012, the city attorney and treasurer will be elected at the same time as other officials beginning in 2015, and the 2017 election will be canceled. The change will save an estimated $4.2 million per canceled election according to the city controller.
  • A report from the Greenlining Institute found that in Los Angeles, the May 2011 off-year general election cost $7.2 million. With turnout of only 8.3 percent of registered voters, the cost per vote was $52.61. In contrast, San Diego has no off-year elections for city offices. For the November 2010 election, which included city as well as statewide races, San Diego spent $1.67 per vote, based on a turnout of 62.7 percent.
  • Arizona House Bill 2826, signed by the governor in May 2012, eliminated all city off-year elections, with the goal of reducing taxpayer costs and improving turnout, but the measure was controversial. Many county and city officials argued that the change could politicize nonpartisan municipal elections, result in voters ignoring local races in favor of higher-profile federal and statewide contests, and, in some cases, violate city charters. The cities of Tucson and Phoenix challenged the law in court and were granted an injunction from its requirements.

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