HKS Authors

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In recent years, a consensus has developed among scholars that the timing of elections has large effects on the electoral and political process at the local level. This literature has found that on-cycle elections lead to higher turnout, change the composition of the electorate, and could impact local governments’ policy outputs. But much of this work has focused on public schools. There has been little prior research on the impact of election timing on either elections or the broader political process in city and county governments. In this paper, we bring together a bevy of data sources on turnout in local elections, the outcomes of these elections, and local policy outputs. Overall, our results indicate there are significant participatory benefits to on-cycle local elections while few political consequences. Moving local elections on-cycle significantly increases overall voter turnout and the participation of younger and less wealthy voters. But it has negligible effects on the partisan composition of the electorate or the partisan and ideological outcomes of elections. Nor do on-cycle elections change the policy outputs of local governments. Our results help build a more holistic understanding of representation in local governments and the distinctive role of electoral institutions in facilitating representation.


de Benedictis Kessner, Justin. "The Electoral and Policy Effects of Election Timing in City and County Government." December 23, 2023.