I’m relatively sure that a Five Thirty Eight piece on how Democrats are suppressing the vote by having off-year elections with the “advantage” of low turnout is the actual definition of peak data journalism.
Why do Democrats and Democratic-aligned groups prefer off-cycle elections? When school boards and other municipal offices are up for election at odd times, few run-of-the-mill voters show up at the polls, but voters with a particular interest in these elections — like city workers themselves — show up in full force. The low-turnout election allows their policy goals to dominate.
Anzia shows that off-cycle elections lead to higher salaries and better health and retirement benefits for teachers and public employees. Anzia studies these effects in many different ways. The simplest way is by looking at eight states that allow local governments to set their own election dates. She compares school districts that hold school board elections on-cycle and off-cycle within the same state. Controlling for factors that might make districts different from one another — like their population size, income, racial composition, partisan leanings and how urban or rural they are — Anzia found that the maximum base teacher salary is over 4 percent higher in districts with off-cycle elections.
Higher salaries and better benefits for municipal employees can be a good outcome. What is interesting is that this outcome is the result of a deliberate move to hold municipal elections at times when few voters are participating.
Proponents of the off-cycle strategy argue that local issues get drowned out when local elections are held concurrent with presidential or congressional elections. People who show up to vote in those big elections may not be equipped to weigh in on the local issues. Anzia quotes a Texas school official who defends off-cycle elections because they bring out “an educated voter … people who really care about the issues and who are passionate about their district.” In off-cycle elections, proponents claim, the electorate is a concentrated set of voters who are engaged in the local issues, which yields better results for the community.
For readers who are sympathetic to the perspective of the off-cycle election proponents (typically Democrats), it is worth noting that these are very much the same arguments that Republicans might make in favor of voting restrictions that make voting a little bit harder for the average American. Just like voter ID or voter-registration requirements, off-cycle elections impose a cost on political participation. The cost is evidently high, since very few people participate in local elections when they are held in odd-numbered years. Maybe the cost leads to a more enlightened electorate. Or maybe it is Democratic-sponsored voter suppression.
Even if you buy Eitan Hersh’s “gosh this is counter-intuitive!” Freakonomics argument here that low-turnout off-year local races favor Democrats (and not something far more reasonable like “larger urban centers tend to have more Democrats”), the act of comparing what Republicans are doing with actual voter suppression tactics now and over the last several decades to states that allow cities to vote in off-year races as equivalent to the point of making Democrats hypocrites over voter access is complete and utter nonsense.
This is because:
1) Democrats don’t pass laws specifically making it more difficult for people to vote by adding additional hurdles to make it more expensive for the voter to vote by imposing a photo ID requirement and then closing a bunch of DMV offices so those photo IDs are far more difficult to get.
2) “Having an election in an odd-numbered year” is not suppression. at most it’s an additional cost to a county elections board that is shared by all taxpayers and not just Republicans.
3) The Republican argument as to why photo ID voter laws are needed are based on junk science and are terrible because photo ID requirements wouldn’t have prevented the voter fraud Republicans keep complaining about that fuel these laws and…
4) Low-turnout elections favor Republicans and there’s reams and reams of data supporting that, which is why Republicans are trying to actively suppress urban Democratic party voters in the first goddamn place.
This whole idea is stupid on its face and serves only as High Broderism that hides the very real issue of Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters across the country.
Jesus hell, what an asshole.
PS, GO VOTE. Frowny Bee wants you to vote.