Off-year election

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An off-year election, sometimes referred to as an "off-cycle election" or a "stealth election" (since many people don't know they are happening),[1] is a general election in the United States which is held when neither a presidential election nor a midterm election takes place.[2][3] Almost all "off-year" elections are held on odd-numbered years. At times, the term "off-year" may also be used to refer to midterm election years.[4] "Off-cycle" can also refer any election that doesn't take place on November of an even-numbered year.[5]

Off-year elections during odd-numbered years rarely feature any election to a federal office, few state legislative elections, and very few gubernatorial elections. Instead, the vast majority of these elections are held at the county and municipal level. On the ballot are many mayors, a wide variety of citizen initiatives in various states, and many more local public offices. They may also feature a number of special elections to fill vacancies in various federal, state and local offices.

Off-year elections often feature far fewer races than either presidential or midterm elections and generate far lower voter turnout than even-numbered election years,[6][7][8] and benefit well-organized special interest groups that often make up local political machines.[9] These interest groups will use low-turnout off-cycle elections to capture more of a government.[10] Even though large majorities of republicans and democrats want to shift to on-cycle elections,[11] these interest groups have used their political power to slow down some but not all of the reform efforts, with California, Arizona and Nevada seeing significant success in shifting local elections on-cycle.[12]

Federal elections[edit]

Regularly scheduled elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives are always held in even-numbered years. Elections for these offices are only held during odd-numbered years if accommodating a special election—usually either due to incumbents resigning or dying while in office.

Special elections are never held for the U.S. President. If the President dies, resigns or is (via impeachment conviction) removed from office, the successor is determined by the presidential line of succession, as specified by the United States Constitution and the Presidential Succession Act, and serves the rest of the presidential term.

State elections[edit]

Five states elect their respective governors to four-year terms during off-year elections: Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia.[13] Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi hold their gubernatorial elections during the off-year before the presidential election; e.g. the 2019 elections. New Jersey and Virginia then hold theirs in the off-year after the presidential election; e.g. the 2021 elections.

Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia also hold off-year state legislative elections.

A major reason why these states hold their elections in odd years is because it is less likely they would be affected by federal authority and influence.[14]

Off-years may also feature a wide variety of citizen initiatives in various states, as well as a number of special elections to fill various state offices. States may also allow recall elections, such as the 2021 California gubernatorial recall election.

Local elections[edit]

If races are held during off-year, odd-numbered election years they tend to be for offices at the municipal and local level. However, in order to save costs, increase voter turnout, have a far more representative group of voters,[15] the trend is to consolidate elections to November of even-numbered years.

Comparison with other U.S. General Elections[edit]

Basic rotation of U.S. general elections (fixed-terms only[1])
Year 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
Type General Off-yeara Midterm Off-yearb General
President Yes No Yes
Senate Class II (33 seats) No Class III (34 seats) No Class I (33 seats)
House All 435 seats[2] No All 435 seats[3] No All 435 seats[2]
Governor 11 states, 2 territories
DE, IN, MO, MT, NH, NC, ND, UT, VT, WA, WV, AS, PR
2 states
NJ, VA
36 states, DC, & 3 territories[4]
AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IA, KS, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, NE, NV, NH, NM, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VT, WI, WY, DC (Mayor), GU, MP, VI
3 states
KY, LA, MS
11 states, 2 territories
DE, IN, MO, MT, NH, NC, ND, UT, VT, WA, WV, AS, PR
Lieutenant Governor[5] 5 states, 1 territory
DE, MO, NC, VT, WA, AS
1 state
VA
10 states [6]
AL, AR, CA, GA, ID, NV, OK, RI, TX, VT
2 states
LA, MS
5 states, 1 territory
DE, MO, NC, VT, WA, AS
Secretary of State 8 states
MO, MT, NC, OR, PA, VT, WA, WV
None 26 states
AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MA, MI, MN, NE, NV, NM, ND, OH, RI, SC, TX, VT, WI, WY
2 states
KY, MS
8 states
MO, MT, NC, OR, PA, VT, WA, WV
Attorney General 10 states
IN, MO, MT, NC, OR, PA, UT, VT, WA, WV
1 state
VA
29 states, DC, & 2 territories
AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IL, IA, KS, MD, MA, MI, MN, NE, NV, NM, NY, ND, OH, OK, RI, SC, TX, VT, WI, WY, DC, GU, MP
2 states
KY, MS
10 states
IN, MO, MT, NC, OR, PA, UT, VT, WA, WV
State Treasurer[7] 9 states
MO, NC, ND, OR, PA, UT, VT, WA, WV
None 23 states
AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL (CFO), ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MA, NE, NV, NM, OH, OK, RI, SC, VT, WI, WY
2 states
KY, MS
9 states
MO, NC, ND, OR, PA, UT, VT, WA, WV
State Comptroller/Controller None None 8 states
CA, CT, IL, MD, NV, NY, SC, TX
None None
State Auditor 9 states
MT, NC, ND, PA, UT, VT, WA, WV, GU
None 15 states
AL, AR, DE, IN, IA, MA, MN, MO, NE, NM, OH, OK, SD, VT, WY
1 state
KY
9 states
MT, NC, ND, PA, UT, VT, WA, WV, GU
Superintendent of Public Instruction 4 states
MT, NC, ND, WA
1 state
WI
8 states
AZ, CA, GA, ID, OK,
SC, SD (incl. Land), WY
None 4 states
MT, NC, ND, WA
Agriculture Commissioner 2 states
NC, WV
None 7 states
AL, FL, GA, IA, ND, SC, TX
2 states
KY, MS
2 states
NC, WV
Insurance Commissioner 3 states
NC, ND, WA,
None 5 states
DE, CA GA, KS, OK,
2 states
LA, MS
3 states
NC, ND, WA,
Other commissioners & elected officials 1 state
NC (Labor)
None 8 states
AZ (Mine Inspector), AR (Land), GA (Land), NM (Land), ND (Tax), OK (Labor), OR (Labor), TX (Land)
None 1 state
NC (Labor)
State legislatures[8] 44 states, DC, & 5 territories
AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IO, KS, KY, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, MN, NE, NV, NH, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI, WY, DC, AS, GU, MP, PR, VI
2 states
VA, NJ
46 states, DC, & 4 territories
AK, AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IO, KS, KY, ME, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MN, NE, NV, NH, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI, WY, DC, AS, GU, MP, VI
4 states
LA, MS, NJ, VA
44 states, DC, & 5 territories
AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IO, KA, KY, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, MN, NE, NV, NH, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI, WY, DC, AS, GU, MP, PR, VI
State boards of education [9] 8 states, DC, & 3 territories
AL, CO, KS, MI, NE, OH, TX, UT, DC, GU, MP, VI
None 8 states, DC, & 3 territories
AL, CO, KS, MI, NE, OH, TX, UT, DC, GU, MP, VI
None 8 states, DC, & 3 territories
AL, CO, KS, MI, NE, OH, TX, UT, DC, GU, MP, VI
Other state, local, and tribal offices Varies
1 This table does not include special elections, which may be held to fill political offices that have become vacant between the regularly scheduled elections.
2 As well as all six non-voting delegates of the U.S. House.
3 As well as five non-voting delegates of the U.S. House. The Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico instead serves a four-year term that coincides with the presidential term.
4 The Governors of New Hampshire and Vermont are each elected to two-year terms. The other 48 state governors and all five territorial governors serve four-year terms.
5 In 26 states and 3 territories the Lieutenant Governor is elected on the same ticket as the Governor: AK, CO, CT, FL, HI, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MD, MA, MI, MN, MT, NE, NJ, NM, NY, ND, OH, PA, SC, SD, UT, WI, GU, MP, VI.
6 Like the Governor, Vermont's other officials are each elected to two-year terms. All other state officers for all other states listed serve four-year terms.
7 In some states, the comptroller or controller has the duties equivalent to a treasurer. There are some states with both positions, so both have been included separately.
8 This list does not differentiate chambers of each legislature. Forty-nine state legislatures are bicameral; Nebraska is unicameral. Additionally, Washington, DC, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands are unicameral; the other territories are bicameral. All legislatures have varying terms for their members. Many have two-year terms for the lower house and four-year terms for the upper house. Some have all two-year terms and some all four-year terms. Arkansas has a combination of both two- and four-year terms in the same chamber.
9 Most states not listed here have a board appointed by the Governor and legislature. All boards listed here have members that serve four-year staggered terms, except Colorado, which has six-year terms, and Guam, which has two-year terms. Most are elected statewide, some are elected from districts. Louisiana, Ohio, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands have additional members who are appointed.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Anzia, Sarah F. (2013). Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-08695-8. p. 81
  2. ^ "POLITICAL NOTES: Off-Year Elections". Time magazine. 1927-11-21. Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved 2016-07-30.
  3. ^ Chaggaris, Steve (2009-11-03). "Politics Today: Off-Year Election Day is Here". CBS News. Retrieved 2016-07-30.
  4. ^ Bowman, Ann O'M.; Kearney, Richard C. (2014). State and Local Government: The Essentials (6th ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 79–80. Most states schedule their gubernatorial elections in "off-years"--that is, years in which no presidential election is held
  5. ^ Anzia, Sarah F. (2013). Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-08695-8. p. 6-7
  6. ^ "Voter Turnout". FairVote. Retrieved 2001-04-08. Low turnout is most pronounced in off-year elections for state legislators and local officials as well as primaries
  7. ^ Hunter, Bridget (2007-11-07). "2007 State, Local Elections Important Despite Low Voter Turnout". america.gov. Retrieved 2001-04-08.
  8. ^ Anzia, Sarah F. (2011). "Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups". The Journal of Politics. 73 (2): 412–427. doi:10.1017/S0022381611000028. ISSN 0022-3816.
  9. ^ Anzia, Sarah F. (2013). Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-08695-8. p. 78-79
  10. ^ Anzia, Sarah F. (2013). Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-08695-8. p. 210
  11. ^ Anzia, Sarah F. (2013). Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-08695-8. p. 210
  12. ^ "Who Votes: City Election Timing and Voter Composition" Zoltan L. Hajnal, Vladimir Kogan, and G. Agustin Markarian. 19 August 2021. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/american-political-science-review/article/abs/who-votes-city-election-timing-and-voter-composition/39CE6B9F0E906228F695248C874C0C36. Cambridge University Press p. 381
  13. ^ Biesk, Joe (2007-06-18). "Governor's Race in the Spotlight – Race to Draw National Focus". The Kentucky Post.
  14. ^ "Why These 5 States Hold Odd-Year Elections, Bucking The Trend". NPR. 2019-11-04.
  15. ^ "Who Votes: City Election Timing and Voter Composition" Zoltan L. Hajnal, Vladimir Kogan, and G. Agustin Markarian. 19 August 2021. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/american-political-science-review/article/abs/who-votes-city-election-timing-and-voter-composition/39CE6B9F0E906228F695248C874C0C36. Cambridge University Press