Vote 2017
Vote 2017

Ear­li­er this month, bal­lots for the August Top Two elec­tion (which con­cludes tomor­row) were mailed to 3,850,467 vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton State. Regret­tably, only
541,577 have been returned thus far… an abysmal turnout rate of just 14.1%.

No coun­ty elec­tions divi­sion has seen a major­i­ty of bal­lots issued come back, although some small coun­ties have had about a third of their bal­lots come back.

Tiny Garfield Coun­ty is cur­rent­ly the turnout leader with 36%, fol­lowed by lit­tle Lin­coln Coun­ty at 33% and itty bit­ty Ska­ma­nia Coun­ty at 32%.

The larg­er coun­ties are all at under 20% turnout. Pierce is real­ly lag­ging, with just 10.5% of bal­lots returned. Sno­homish is sit­ting at 12% and King Coun­ty is at 13.7%. Kit­sap is far­ing some­what bet­ter with turnout of 18.8%, while What­com is at 18.9%. Spokane is at 13.9% and Clark is at 12.3%.

Unless a lot more peo­ple vote over the next twen­ty-four hours, there’s a very real pos­si­bil­i­ty Wash­ing­ton could set a new record for low statewide turnout in a Top Two elec­tion, which would be a dis­ap­point­ing development.

Two years ago, in 2015, turnout was a measly 24.37% statewide… less than a fourth of bal­lots came back. That was a decline from 2013, when Top Two turnout was 25.99%, and 2011, when Top Two turnout was 29.54%.

Turnout isn’t just declin­ing in local elec­tions, either. It is declin­ing in every type of elec­tion, which is very wor­ry­ing. We talked a lot about this trend last year, when Tina Pod­lodows­ki (now the Chair of the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty) was chal­leng­ing Kim Wyman for Sec­re­tary of State.

Wyman has said repeat­ed­ly turnout is cycli­cal and depen­dent on what’s on the bal­lot, but as we illus­trat­ed, turnout has been get­ting worse across the board, and she has yet to offer a plan for arrest­ing and revers­ing the trend.

Under Kim Wyman, Washington's voter turnout is declining

The much-hyped 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which Wyman antic­i­pat­ed would be a bonan­za, did not devi­ate from the trend. Turnout statewide was only 78.76% — down from 81.25% in 2012, 84.61% in 2008, and 82.19% in 2004.

There are many pos­si­ble expla­na­tions for the declin­ing vot­er turnout: the tim­ing of elec­tions (Top Two elec­tions held in August have his­tor­i­cal­ly had lousy par­tic­i­pa­tion), increas­ing indif­fer­ence and apa­thy among the elec­torate, and bar­ri­ers to vot­ing (like lack of drop box­es), to name a few.

King Coun­ty Elec­tions twice exper­i­ment­ed with pre­paid postage on bal­lot return envelopes ear­li­er this year, seek­ing to remove one bar­ri­er to vot­ing, and saw an increase in turnout. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, pre­paid postage was not pro­vid­ed on return envelopes for this elec­tion. We wish that it had been.

If you’re a read­er of this blog, chances are you’ve already vot­ed and dis­charged your civic duty. But have you checked in on your friends and fam­i­ly and made sure that they have returned *their* bal­lots? If not, please do so tonight!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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