New Report: Cities Tripled Voter Turnout by Moving Election Date

California Common Cause today released a new report, Consolidation of Elections Creates Massive Gains in Local Voter Turnout.

The report examines the results of a 2015 law that prohibits cities from holding elections “off-cycle” or any date other than a statewide or national election if doing so in the past resulted in turnout that was 25 percent lower than the voter turnout for the last four statewide general elections. The goal of the law was to boost turnout and strengthen civic engagement — and the law appears to have worked better than predicted.

According to the report authors, Alvin Valverde Meneses and Eric Spencer, registered voter turnout in city elections nearly tripled in 54 cities that moved their city elections from off-cycle dates to “on-cycle” dates that featured gubernatorial and presidential races on the ballot in November 2016, 2018, and 2020. The average registered voter turnout in these cities was 25.54% in off-cycle elections and it increased to 75.81% when the cities moved their elections to on-cycle dates in 2016, 2018, and 2020.

The huge increase in turnout held true even after increases in voter registration were taken into account. This finding also held true in historically underrepresented communities, such as Pico Rivera and San Fernando, where off-cycle turnout started below 15 percent.

“One of the greatest barometers for civic engagement in American politics is voter turnout,” said Valverde Meneses. “When it comes to turnout, timing is everything.”

Although cities across the state of California made the switch, many of the cities we researched were located in Los Angeles County. Cities studied in the report (see appendix) range from small and mid-sized to larger cities like Santa Clarita. A previous California Common Cause report examining the March primaries in Los Angeles City found similar voter turnout increase trends.

Based on these initial findings, California Common Cause recommends more cities that have a significant difference in turnout between off- and on-cycle years consolidate their elections beginning in 2022. Future research on election consolidation could help indicate the impact it has had on historically disenfranchised communities and if it has diversified the candidates or officials elected to represent their communities.

Read the new report.