Electoral institutions are central to our understanding of democratic politics. A vast literature has asked whether direct democracy, voter registration laws, nonpartisan elections, and even ballot appearance influence voter participation. However, political scientists have tended to ignore the one institutional arrangement that is the most powerful predictor of turnout: the day an election is held.
Sarah F. Anzia’s Timing and Turnout offers the first comprehensive account of the causes and consequences of “off-cycle” elections in the United States. It is worth emphasizing the prevalence of these elections: nearly 90 percent of states hold at least some municipal races apart from major national elections, and three-quarters of states do so for school board elections (p. 16). Although scholars have long noted the relationship between off-cycle elections and lower turnout, with some speculating that “stealth elections” favor certain groups, Anzia is the first to develop a general theory of election timing.
Despite the fact that contemporary debates over consolidating elections are mired in technocratic arguments about costs and elec
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