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Will Concurrent Elections Reshape the Electorate?

  • Author(s): Collins, Jonathan;
  • Lucero, Eddie;
  • Trounstine, Jessica
  • et al.
Abstract

In 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Voter Participation Rights Act (SB 415) into law.  As its title suggests, the bill aimed to increase turnout in local elections by forcing all California jurisdictions to hold elections concurrently with statewide elections (in June or November of even years).  Turnout in local elections is significantly lower than national turnout, averaging only 20% by some estimates (Alford and Lee 1968, Wood 2002, Hajnal and Lewis 2003, Caren 2007, Hajnal 2009).  Scholars have found that election timing is the most important predictor of differences in aggregate turnout rates across cities (Alford and Lee 1968, Anzia 2014, Anzia 2011, Hajnal and Trounstine 2005).  Hajnal and Lewis find that city elections that coincide with presidential elections are associated with a turnout of registered voters 36 percentage points higher than turnout in cities that do not hold elections that coincide with the presidential election (2001, 656). Caren finds that cities holding elections concurrent with the presidential election increase voter turnout by 27% compared to cities that do not (2007, 41).  The logic behind SB 415 is that moving local elections to coincide with national elections will improve electoral participation.

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