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.
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.
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.
But there is a political aspect as well. Some election experts argue that by separating local and federal elections, the odd-year scheme has helped keep Democrats in power in Kentucky, long after the state started voting for Republicans at a federal level.
The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday. It is now eligible to be voted on in the Senate.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, urged lawmakers to consider an early voting policy as part of the measure.
“As savings and participation are part of the goal, I would like to see those savings directed toward at least extending the voting hours of the current hours that we have, if not allowing for some early voting. Because that will increase participation as well,” McGarvey said.