An off-year election is a general election in the United States which is held when neither a presidential election nor a midterm election takes place. The term "off-year" may also be used to refer to midterm election years as well.
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Off-year elections during odd-numbered years rarely feature any election to a federal office, few state legislative elections, and very few gubernatorial elections. Instead, the vast majority of these elections are held at the county and municipal level. On the ballot are many mayors, a wide variety of citizen initiatives in various states, and many more local public offices. They may also feature a number of special elections to fill vacancies in various federal, state and local offices.
Regularly scheduled elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives are always held in even-numbered years. Elections for these offices are only held during odd-numbered years if accommodating a special election—usually either due to incumbents resigning or dying while in office.
Special elections are never held for the U.S. President. If the President dies, resigns or is (via impeachment conviction) removed from office, the successor is determined by the presidential line of succession, as specified by the United States Constitution and the Presidential Succession Act, and serves the rest of the presidential term.
Five states elect their respective governors to four-year terms during off-year elections: Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi hold their gubernatorial elections during the off-year before the presidential election, i.e. in years leaving remainder 3 when divided by 4; e.g. the 2015 elections. New Jersey and Virginia then hold theirs in the off-year after the presidential election, i.e. in years leaving remainder 1 when divided by 4; e.g. the 2017 elections.
Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia also hold off-year state legislative elections.
Off-years may also feature a wide variety of citizen initiatives in various states, as well as a number of special elections to fill various state offices. States may also allow recall elections, such as the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, when California voters replaced then Governor Gray Davis with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A majority of races held during off-year, odd-numbered election years are those for offices at the municipal and local level. Many major cities around the country elect their mayors during off-years, including the top seven most populous cities (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and San Antonio), as well as Albany, Syracuse, Toledo, Miami, Burbank, San Francisco, Van Nuys, and Monterey. However, as a matter of convenience and cost saving, many other city and local governments may instead hold their elections during even-numbered years to coincide with either the presidential or midterm elections.
Comparison with other U.S. General Elections
|Senate||Class III (34 seats)||No||Class I (33 seats)||No||Class II (33 seats)|
|House||All 435 seats||No||All 435 seats||No||All 435 seats|
|Gubernatorial||11 states, 2 territories
AS, DE, IN, MO, MT, NH, NC, ND, PR, UT, VT, WA, WV
|36 states, 3 territories
AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, GU, HI, ID, IL, IA, KS, ME, MP, MD, MA, MI, MN, NE, NV, NH, NM, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VI, VT, WI, WY
KY, LA, MS
|11 states, 2 territories |
AS, DE, IN, MO, MT, NH, NC, ND, PR, UT, VT, WA, WV
|Other state and local offices||Varies|
- 1 This table does not include special elections, which may be held to fill political offices that have become vacant between the regularly scheduled elections.
- 2 As well as all six non-voting delegates of the U.S. House.
- 3 As well as five non-voting delegates of the U.S. House. The Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico instead serves a four-year term that coincides with the presidential term.
- 4 The Governors of New Hampshire and Vermont are each elected to two-year terms. The other 48 state governors and all five territorial governors serve four-year terms.
- "POLITICAL NOTES: Off-Year Elections". Time magazine. 1927-11-21. Retrieved 2016-07-30.
- Chaggaris, Steve (2009-11-03). "Politics Today: Off-Year Election Day is Here". CBS News. Retrieved 2016-07-30.
- Bowman, Ann O'M.; Kearney, Richard C. (2014). State and Local Government: The Essentials (6th ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 79–80.
Most states schedule their gubernatorial elections in "off-years"--that is, years in which no presidential election is held
- "Voter Turnout". FairVote. Retrieved 2001-04-08.
Low turnout is most pronounced in off-year elections for state legislators and local officials as well as primaries
- Hunter, Bridget (2007-11-07). "2007 State, Local Elections Important Despite Low Voter Turnout". america.gov. Retrieved 2001-04-08.
- Biesk, Joe (2007-06-18). "Governor's Race in the Spotlight – Race to Draw National Focus". The Kentucky Post.