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.

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Good news: Washington State seeing highest August electoral voter turnout since 2012

After spi­ral­ing down­ward across elec­tions for more half a decade, vot­er turnout in Wash­ing­ton State is final­ly on the rise, thanks in part to the removal of bar­ri­ers to vot­ing and thanks in part to the resis­tance and back­lash to Don­ald Trump’s regime.

As of this morn­ing, vot­er turnout in the August 2018 Top Two elec­tion stood at 38.45%, a lev­el of par­tic­i­pa­tion not seen since 2012, when Barack Oba­ma was the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s nom­i­nee for Pres­i­dent for the sec­ond time.

An esti­mat­ed 78,587 bal­lots remain left to be count­ed, which means the per­cent­age will go high­er before the elec­tion is cer­ti­fied a week from this Tues­day. If all the remain­ing esti­mat­ed bal­lots are count­ed, turnout will climb above 40%.

And that would put us above the mark set in 2012.

Sur­pass­ing 40% would also be a nice sym­bol­ic accom­plish­ment. The last time we saw August turnout that high was eight years ago, dur­ing the 2010 midterms.

Thanks to King Coun­ty’s lead­er­ship, this elec­tion is the first in which every Wash­ing­ton vot­er was pro­vid­ed with pre­paid postage on their bal­lot return envelopes. Stamps are no longer need­ed to return a bal­lot through the mail, which means that every post office is now effec­tive­ly a bal­lot drop box.

Mean­while, the num­ber of drop box­es has also been increased as a con­se­quence of leg­is­la­tion approved last year. It’s nev­er been eas­i­er to return a ballot.

The turnout we’re see­ing in this elec­tion is evi­dence that remov­ing bar­ri­ers to vot­ing can have a pos­i­tive effect on turnout.

Next year, more of the Access to Democ­ra­cy bills are set to be imple­ment­ed, includ­ing auto­mat­ic, pre, and same day vot­er reg­is­tra­tion. These much need­ed changes will hope­ful­ly con­tin­ue to lift turnout.

Here’s the per­cent­ages for every August Top Two elec­tion, going back ten years:

Pri­or to 2008, Wash­ing­ton held an open pri­ma­ry (also called a pick a par­ty pri­ma­ry) as its pre­lim­i­nary elec­tion, in which vot­ers chose nom­i­nees for par­ti­san offices.

Here are the same Top Two per­cent­ages plot­ted on a chart:

Washington State Top Two Election Turnout: 2008-2018

The “moun­tains” in the chart are pres­i­den­tial and midterm elec­tion years; the “val­leys” are local elec­tion years. Notice that even in the even-num­bered years, turnout was on a down­ward tra­jec­to­ry. 2016 had worse turnout than 2012, for exam­ple, and 2014 had worse turnout than 2010.

When mak­ing com­par­isons, it is best to com­pare apples to apples, oranges to oranges, bananas to bananas, and so on. So when we’re look­ing at turnout, the most sim­i­lar elec­tion is the one held four years ago in an equiv­a­lent cycle.

There are nine main elec­tion types, not count­ing spe­cial elec­tions in April and Feb­ru­ary: a pre­lim­i­nary and a gen­er­al elec­tion cor­re­spond­ing to each year in a four year cycle (pres­i­den­tial, local, midterm, local) and the pres­i­den­tial primary.

By our reck­on­ing, this is only the sec­ond elec­tion in six years in which turnout has climbed above a pre­ced­ing elec­tion of the same type.

The first to buck the falling turnout trend was last year’s Top Two elec­tion, which had slight­ly high­er turnout (26.92%) than its 2013 pre­de­ces­sor (25.99%).

Washington State Voter Turnout By Election Type, 1996-2017

As we can see, the 2017 Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion sad­ly did not buck the trend.

Turnout in that elec­tion — which was a piti­ful 37.10% — igno­min­ious­ly became the worst in state his­to­ry. More vot­ers have already vot­ed in this Top Two elec­tion than vot­ed in last Novem­ber’s gen­er­al elec­tion, which real­ly says some­thing, because those are dif­fer­ent types of elec­tions and not direct­ly comparable!

There’s more we can do to make vot­ing eas­i­er and encour­age peo­ple to vote, but we can be proud of the steps we’ve already tak­en. Unlike right wing dom­i­nat­ed states, we are work­ing to expand suf­frage and par­tic­i­pa­tion instead of con­strict it.

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