There are nearly half a million elected officials in American local governments, and the timing of their elections varies enormously both across states and even within the same state. Some local elections are held simultaneously with major federal and state races, while others are held at times when no higher level elections coincide. This Article argues that the timing of local elections drives turnout and, ultimately, substantive policymaking. When local elections do not coincide with important federal or state contests, the marginal cost to voters of participating rises, and consequently only those voters with the greatest stake in the electoral outcome turn out, a phenomenon we label “selective participation.” Selective participation is especially pronounced in local specialpurpose elections, such as those for school and special districts, where single-issue interest groups are especially influential. When there is selective participation in a low turnout election, policy outcomes will be more favorable to special interests than they would be if the same government were elected in a high turnout election. To explore these ideas empirically, we examine a natural experiment created by a 1980s change in the California Election Code, which gave school boards the option of changing their elections from off-cycle to on-cycle. Against this backdrop, we consider alternative legal regimes for regulating the timing of local government elections.
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