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Who Votes: City Election Timing and Voter Composition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 August 2021

University of California, San Diego, United States
Ohio State University, United States
University of California, San Diego, United States
Zoltan L. Hajnal, Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego, United States,
Vladimir Kogan, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Ohio State University, United States,
G. Agustin Markarian, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, United States,


Low and uneven turnout is a serious problem for local democracy. Fortunately, one simple reform—shifting the timing of local elections so they are held on the same day as national contests—can substantially increase participation. Considerable research shows that on-cycle November elections generally double local voter turnout compared with stand-alone local contests. But does higher turnout mean a more representative electorate? On that critical question, the evidence is slim and mixed. We combine information on election timing with detailed microtargeting data that includes voter demographic information to examine how election timing influences voter composition in city elections. We find that moving to on-cycle elections in California leads to an electorate that is considerably more representative in terms of race, age, and partisanship—especially when these local elections coincide with a presidential election. Our results suggest that on-cycle elections can improve local democracy.

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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