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.
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!