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August 25, 2011



Kentucky's elections are this November.


It could be simply that elections were set under the 1890 Constitution for the next year after it became effective - Nov. 1, 1890. [note: Delegates were elected, therefore the constitution was not voted on because the "people" enacted it.] Elections were in 1891, with the first regular session of the Legislature to start in Jan. 1892. Here is original constitution - Article 14 prescribes certain transitional phases. Also see Article 4 which deals with the Legislature, specifically Sec. 36.

It really had nothing to do with national politics that I know of, but the extant Jackson newspapers carried a running commentary of the proceedings and may prove me wrong. There has been discussion of moving the election year to coincide with Presidential election years and that has been received favorably because of the argument that national politics could influence state election outcomes.

Karl Kurtz

Virginia State Library reference librarians Edwin Ray and William Luebke checked the record further and sent these details about Virginia's election date:

"Our research finds there is no reason, at least not any politically motivated reason, explaining why Virginia's elections are held in odd numbered years, but rather the simple, arithmetic explanation is that the elections happened to begin in an odd numbered year.

"The 1851 Constitution changed the election of governors from election by the General Assembly to a popular election and changed their term of office from three years to four. The first governor elected under the 1851 Constitution was Joseph Johnson. The election was on 1 December 1851. He was inaugurated on 1 January 1852 (term ended 1 January 1856).

"The 1869 Constitution ( also known as the Underwood Constitution) continued this "off year election cycle." Both the 1869 Constitution was ratified and a governor (Gilbert C. Walker) elected by popular vote on 6 July 1869. Walker was inaugurated 1 January 1870 (term ended 1 January 1874).

"There were no articles or sections in either the 1851 or 1869 Constitutions providing for off year elections. Both were consequences of when the constitutions were ratified or went into effect.

"The General Assembly that convened on 5 October 1869 implemented the provisions of the new constitution. The below 'codified' the odd year elections for the governor.

"From the Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Virginia Passed at the Session of 1869 - 70

"'Chap. 76. - An ACT to Provide for a General Election. Approved May 11, 1870.

'7. The governor, lieutenant-governor, and attorney-general, shall be chosen by the qualified voters of the commonwealth, at the general election to be held in November of the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy-three, and every fourth year thereafter, and shall hold their offices for the term of four years.'"

Karl Kurtz

Randall is correct that Kentucky has elections in 2011, but they are for governor and other statewide offices only, not for the General Assembly. Since the subject of this article was state legislative elections, I did not include Kentucky in the article. Legislative elections in Kentucky historically took place in odd-numbered years, but in 1984 the state moved to even-numbered year elections for the General Assembly. Kentucky is the only state that completely separates the election of the governor from that of the legislature.

Karl Kurtz

Therese Hanna of the Center for Mississippi Health Policy kindly sent our request for help in explaining Mississippi's election dates to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and forwarded this wonderfully detailed response from Will Morgan:

"By studying Mississippi's Constitutions and our Registers of Commissions, it would appear that state, county (and occasionally municipal) elections were held in odd-numbered years perhaps as early as 1817. Under the 1817 Constitution, state representatives held office for one year, senators for three years (with a third up for election every year), and governors for two years. By law then, half of Mississippi's elections would be held on odd-numbered years.

"Under the 1832 Constitution, representatives held office for two years and senators for four years (with half up for election every two years). Our first surviving Register of Commissions after that date (1833-1839) shows elections in 1833, 1834, 1836, 1837, 1838, and 1839...but the majority of these varied elections are dated in 1836 and 1837. Under the 1868 Constitution, governors' terms were increased to four years, and Article IV, Section 7 stipulated that statewide elections would be held every two years. The Register of Commissions for 1870-1871 does list county and municipal elections in 1870, but in the following Registers (1871-1874 and 1873-1877), odd year elections are again the norm, with statewide elections being held on 11/7/1871, 11/4/1873, and 11/2/1875. This trend continues in the Registers for 1886-1890 and 1887-1891, with election on 11/8/1887 and 11/5/1889.

"Finally, under the 1890 Constitution, representatives' terms were increased to four years, with elections to be held statewide every four years. The Constitution clearly states that the Legislature's first session was to begin on 1/1892, which would indicate that elections for that session would be held in 1891, in accordance with both the law and the established tradition. While we don't have a Register of Commissions that lists that particular election date, the register for 1895-1899 confirms that odd-numbered year elections were continued, with one held on 11/5/1895.

"This research shows that odd year elections in Mississippi are nothing new, with strong roots in the Reconstruction regime and clear origins in very early statehood. The article forwarded in your email makes three crucial mistakes. First, it argues that odd year elections in Mississippi can be traced to the 1830s, but a cursory study of the 1817 Constitution shows that odd year elections must necessarily have been held long before. Second, it lists four states with elections in odd-numbered years, but it neglects to mention Kentucky, which also follows this tradition. Finally and most important, the article takes a fifty-state view in considering odd year elections to be unusual. However, of the five states that hold election on odd years (New Jersey, Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi), Mississippi was the latest to be admitted to the union. While five states out of fifty may seem unusual, five out of twenty seems significantly less so. Instead of asking what motivated these states to set up elections in odd-numbered years, one might do better to ask why the thirty states that followed chose to reject a method that a full quarter of the states had adopted at the time."

Karl Kurtz

At The Thicket, we love our readers, especially archivists and librarians: They correct our mistakes and provide details that are beyond our capacity. But I need to respond to Mr. Morgan's comment about "three crucial mistakes" in this posting.

First, in regard to his statement that I was in error by saying that Mississippi's odd-year elections date from the 1830s, he is correct. I should have said "at least the 1830s" because I don't have a source with records of Mississippi elections before 1837.

Second, in regard to Kentucky's odd-year elections, I previously explained my reason for excluding the Bluegrass State's odd-year gubernatorial (not state legislative) election in my response to Randall's comment above.

Third, Mr. Morgan's comment that at the time of Mississippi's admission to the Union in 1817 a higher proportion of states had odd-year elections is correct. In fact, due to the prevalence of one- and three-year terms of office in those days, far more than 20 percent of the states had odd-year elections. However, as my posting makes clear, different states adopted their election dates at different times under various constitutions, so I don't regard the date of the odd-year states' admission to the Union as relevant. Much more relevant is the influence that the federal law mandating presidential and congressional elections in even-numbered years has had on aligning state election dates with federal elections as a matter of convenience and cost savings. That's what makes the states with odd-year elections unusual.

Besides, The Thicket will never apologize for taking a 50-state point of view.

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