Kentucky to Consider Eliminating Odd-Year Statewide Elections

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A Kentucky Senate committee unanimously approved a bill (S.3) that would end the Bluegrass State’s odd-year elections for statewide officials and align with the federal election calendar starting in 2028. WFPL has more:

Kentuckians would no longer vote for governor during odd-numbered years under a bill that unanimously passed out of a legislative committee on Wednesday.

Kentucky is one of the few states in the nation that holds elections in odd-numbered years, which generally have low voter turnout because contests for president, U.S. Senate and Congress aren’t on the ballot.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Latonia, said that moving the elections would save county governments — which run much of the process — about $10.5 million per election cycle.

“This does not do anything but increase voter participation in the election and save money,” McDaniel said.

As a consequence of the change, statewide officials elected at the next state general election in 2023 would serve terms of five years – bringing those offices in line with the federal calendar as well as the schedule for conducting state legislative elections in the state:

The proposal would go into effect after the 2023 election and make the first even-numbered election take place in 2028, putting Kentucky gubernatorial election years in line with presidential ones.

That would mean the next crop of constitutional officers elected in 2023 like governor, attorney general and secretary of state would all serve a five-year term.

One goal of the change would be to increase turnout in statewide elections:

Turnout is generally lower in odd-years. In 2015, 31% of registered Kentucky voters cast ballots; in 2019 it was up to 42%. Meanwhile in 2016, turnout was at 59%; in 2018 it was 46%.

Sen. Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, said that the bill would get more citizens engaged with the electoral process.

“It’s better to have 60% of the people rather than 30% or 40% of the people choosing who our chief magistrate’s going to be or the person who’s going to run our executive branch,” Thayer.

The practice of holding elections in odd-numbered years dates back to the 1850 Kentucky Constitution when delegates expressed a desire to keep state elections separate from federal ones. The custom continued in the current constitution, adopted in 1891.

With committee approval, the bill moves to the full Senate. If ultimately enacted and signed by the Governor, the question would be put to voters as part of the constitutional amendment process. [The full text of the bill is available here.]

The fiscal note to the bill suggests that localities would save approximately $13.5 million in election costs by eliminating the odd-year election, with some short-term costs associated with adding the constitutional question to this fall’s election. The note is silent on the long-term costs of adding statewide contests to the even-year calendar.

Obviously, this proposal has a long way to go before becoming law, but it would represent a significant change in the process – and politics – of statewide elections in Kentucky. Stay tuned …

3 Comments on "Kentucky to Consider Eliminating Odd-Year Statewide Elections"

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