When a reporter asked us why Louisiana, Missisissippi, New Jersey and Virginia have state elections in odd-numbered years, Tim Storey and I replied that it was probably the same reason that states have moved their gubernatorial elections into non-presidential election years: to insulate them from national political trends. After doing some research, though, it turns out that the reasons are sometimes more prosaic and quirky.
In some cases, the odd-year elections have to do with when new constitutions were adopted. Until the mid-19th century, the Virginia General Assembly, not the voters, elected the governor. A new constitution was adopted in 1851, and the first governor was directly elected in December 1851. They have been holding state elections in the odd-numbered years ever since. (See “Virginia’s Off-Off-Year Elections.”)