NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Turnout, get-out-the-vote efforts will determine whether Washington moves forward or slides backward after November

Few elec­tions will be as piv­otal in Wash­ing­ton State his­to­ry as the Novem­ber 2012 elec­tion. It is an elec­tion that could decide whether Wash­ing­ton steps bold­ly into a pro­gres­sive future, or whether it falls vic­tim to right-wing poli­cies that ben­e­fit the top 1% while deny­ing basic rights to many of the state’s residents.

Pro­gres­sives can win big vic­to­ries this Novem­ber — but it will require a high vot­er turnout to get there. But as the August elec­tion showed, there’s a lot of work ahead to improve turnout and get vot­ers to cast their ballots.

Despite pre­dic­tions that vot­er turnout could reach the mid-40% range for the August statewide elec­tion, the actu­al num­bers fell far short.

As of last Sun­day, August 12th, 35.97% of reg­is­tered vot­ers cast a bal­lot in the win­now­ing elec­tion. Sev­er­al thou­sand bal­lots remain to be count­ed, but it’s unlike­ly that turnout will break 40%.

Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom holds that turnout will rise for the Novem­ber elec­tion. Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions typ­i­cal­ly see the high­est turnout rates in Wash­ing­ton, as in oth­er states. Wash­ing­ton also tends to have above aver­age turnout — 62% of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers cast a bal­lot in Novem­ber 2008, com­pared with the nation­al aver­age of 58.5%.

Yet there are wor­ry­ing trends that turnout could be low even in Novem­ber. Polls of vot­er inten­tions show few­er peo­ple intend to cast a bal­lot in 2012, with young vot­ers lag­ging behind their 2004 and 2008 inten­tion lev­els. In 2008, of course, strong turnout from young vot­ers helped put Barack Oba­ma in the White House. Reduced turnout in 2010, on the oth­er hand, helped the Repub­li­can Par­ty retake the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Pri­vate­ly, pro­gres­sive can­di­dates and elect­ed offi­cials are notic­ing a trend across the coun­try of low­er turnout.

Wash­ing­ton State has the chance to make his­to­ry at the Novem­ber bal­lot by being the first state to approve mar­riage equal­i­ty at the polls by approv­ing Ref­er­en­dum 74 and by being the first state to legal­ize mar­i­jua­na (if I‑502 is approved). Wash­ing­ton also has a close­ly con­test­ed gov­er­nor’s race, and down­bal­lot races that could decide con­trol of the State Sen­ate and oth­er impor­tant offices.

High vot­er turnout is impor­tant for all of those races, but par­tic­u­lar­ly for R‑74 and I‑502. Mar­riage and mar­i­jua­na are two issues where the uni­verse of unde­cid­ed vot­ers are much small­er than usu­al. Because there just aren’t very many vot­ers who can be per­suad­ed to change their views, win­ning those cam­paigns will require a focus on get­ting out the vote. A large turnout from King Coun­ty, espe­cial­ly from vot­ers in Seat­tle, may well be the dif­fer­ence for both R‑74 and I‑502.

Although the elec­tion is still three months away, now is the time to begin work­ing to improve turnout. It starts with reg­is­tra­tion. Ask your friends and fam­i­ly if they’re reg­is­tered to vote — and if their reg­is­tra­tion is up to date. The dead­line to reg­is­ter for the Novem­ber elec­tion is Octo­ber 8 (Octo­ber 29 if you’re a new vot­er in Wash­ing­ton State), but we should be encour­ag­ing peo­ple to reg­is­ter now. The Sec­re­tary of State’s web­site can help reg­is­ter you online, direct you to an in-per­son reg­is­tra­tion loca­tion, or even help you reg­is­ter via Face­book.

Once bal­lots are in the mail, which will occur in ear­ly Octo­ber, get­ting vot­ers to return the bal­lots quick­ly will be the next impor­tant task. Vot­ing ear­ly is good from a logis­ti­cal per­spec­tive, ensur­ing your bal­lot has been received and leav­ing your­self time in case there are any prob­lems to resolve. It’s also help­ful for the cam­paigns them­selves. If more vot­ers turn in their bal­lots ear­ly, that allows cam­paign staff and vol­un­teers to focus on chas­ing down a small­er num­ber of peo­ple, mak­ing their own GOTV efforts more tar­get­ed and more effective.

Novem­ber 2012 will be a turnout elec­tion, and pro­gres­sives can win it — but only if we work hard to get our fam­i­ly and friends to turn in their bal­lots. Equal­i­ty, sen­si­ble drug poli­cies, and the future of our state hang in the bal­ance. We can’t let the right win because Wash­ing­ton pro­gres­sives left their bal­lots on the kitchen table.

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