Solano County Supervisors John Vasquez and Jim Spering have asked Fairfield City Council members to consider moving from odd-year elections to even-year elections, a request that if approved will extend the terms of current council members and could help create a domino effect among the numerous school districts and special district that now have odd-year voting.
The question to consider is: Is odd-year voting an oddity?
Spering and Vasquez point to election trends to help justify their request. Specifically, the pair note that Fairfield had a voter turnout of 24 percent in November 2011, when two City Council seats were filled, compared to a voter turnout in Fairfield of 72 percent in November 2012 when Measure P was on the ballot along with state, congressional and presidential contests.
The rationale is sound and extends beyond Fairfield. Voter turnout countywide for recent presidential elections shows strong overall participation – 77 percent in 2004, 85 percent in 2008 and 73 percent in 2012 – compared to midterm races during the same period – 65 percent in 2006 and 62 percent in 2010. Off-cycle voter participation drops off even more – 57 percent in 2005, 36 percent in 2007, 29 percent in 2009 and 27 percent in 2011.
Fairfield voters had another sales tax measure on the 2005 ballot in Measure E, which was defeated and likely drew voter participation. Local ballot measures two years later – Measure Q on water taxes and fees and Measure R on Rockville Hills Regional Park land use – look to have increased voter participation somewhat that year as well. Those voter turnout spikes still fall far below totals for midterm congressional election years.
Officials with local schools districts, cities and special districts may believe it’s better to have elections in off years so their respective races are not lost on what’s already a crowded ballot. There’s also the notion that it’s easier for candidates to marshal their supporters in odd-year elections, and that those elections are less affected by the partisanship that’s present in even-year elections. I can understand that thinking.
That or similar logic may very well have led Fairfield to switch to odd-year elections starting with the 1987 vote. The city also switched from April to November voting at that time.
At a certain point, however, maintaining such an off-year election cycle may cost more than it’s worth, given that the cost of each election is paid by those governments that have races on the ballot. If Fairfield, Vallejo and Benicia switch to even-year elections, it may cost the remaining governments – mostly schools and special districts – too much to continue odd-year elections.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
An argument can be made that it’s more efficient to have consolidated elections that coincide with the congressional and presidential election calendars. Who doesn’t want more efficient government? Recent history also shows there’s stronger voter participation in those years when compared to odd-year elections.
If Fairfield bites, all current council members and the mayor will see their terms extended by a year to move to an even-year voting cycle.
It’s a good time to consider such a move. Mayor Harry Price won in a landslide in the 2009 election, so adding a year to his current term seems simple. Councilman John Mraz and Councilwoman Catherine Moy won their respective seats in 2009, and the next closest contender that year, Pam Bertani, won a seat in 2011. Councilman Rick Vaccaro also won in 2011, so he also has fresh voter support.
Any candidates who are waiting in the wings for this year’s city elections would be forced to wait one more year. That’s not an overly long wait in the world of local politics, where the lay of the land can shift two or three times in as many months.
The City Council will take up the request Tuesday. It’s a discussion that’s worth having.
Reach Managing Editor Glen Faison at 427-6925 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.
This version corrects the spelling of Councilman Rick Vaccaro’s last name.