Only four states—Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia—have odd-year elections, meaning their contests fall in years when there is no national election.
Mississippi was the first state to establish an odd-year schedule. Its 1817 constitution mandated annual elections for the entire state House and a third of the Senate, but the annual grind was short-lived: The state’s 1832 constitution adopted odd-year biennial legislative elections.
Like Mississippi, New Jersey had even- and odd-year elections as one-third of its Senate (serving three-year terms) and the entire House was elected every year prior to the current constitution. Additionally, the governor was elected to a three-year term, so the gubernatorial election alternated between even and odd years. New Jersey’s 1947 constitution ended this, setting Assembly member terms to two years and Senate and gubernatorial terms to four years, with elections occurring biennially after that.
Related: For historical perspective on odd-year elections, read this blog post by former NCSL elections expert Karl Kurtz.
New Jersey Gov. Alfred E. Driscoll told the Garden State’s constitutional convention in 1947 that the “election for a governor and for Assemblymen should not coincide with a presidential election. The importance of a gubernatorial election merits an election that will not be overshadowed by a national contest for the presidency. The problems confronting the state are frequently distinct from those confronting the nation.”
Louisiana began holding odd-year general elections after enacting its 1974 constitution. Butch Speer, a former clerk of the Louisiana House, says the state had for many years conducted its party primaries in the winter of odd-numbered years, with any necessary second primary held in January.
“Because Republican voter registration was so miniscule from 1877 until 1980, the general elections were mere irritants to the Democrat primary victor,” Speer says. “Once we scrapped the partisan primary system , we set the entire system up to run in the fall of the odd-numbered year, our traditional election season.”
Virginia’s reason for holding odd-year elections is more straightforward. In 1851, the state rewrote its constitution to require elections every two years; because its first elections under the new constitution were held that year, odd-year elections became the rule of the day.
As the 2023 elections draw closer, watch for updates from NCSL’s elections team on the outcomes of these odd-year elections and what they could mean for 2024 legislative sessions and for state elections in the other 46 states in 2024.
Adam Kuckuk is a policy analyst in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.