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.

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

Final numbers are in for Washington’s 2020 presidential primary: Turnout sets new record

Wash­ing­ton State’s just-con­clud­ed 2020 pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry turned out not only to be a ground­break­ing event, but a record-set­ting one, too.

For the first time in state his­to­ry, both major polit­i­cal par­ties pledged to allo­cate one hun­dred per­cent of their nation­al con­ven­tion del­e­gates using the results. And vot­ers respond­ed enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly. As of Fri­day, the final day of count­ing, 49.56% of vot­ers had returned a bal­lot, with 2,256,488 bal­lots counted.

Nev­er before has a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry attract­ed that kind of turnout.

In 2016, turnout was just 34.78%. In 2008, the year that Barack Oba­ma and Hillary Clin­ton vied for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion, turnout in the mean­ing­less pri­ma­ry was 41.88% despite being held in Feb­ru­ary when the race was still very fluid.

In 2000, turnout was 42.60%.

No pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry was held in 2004 or 2012 because the Leg­is­la­ture opt­ed to can­cel it, so we can­not com­pare this year to those years.

As men­tioned above, this was the first pri­ma­ry in which both par­ties pledged to uti­lize the results to allo­cate their nation­al con­ven­tion delegates.

That seems to have made all the dif­fer­ence with respect to turnout.

Peo­ple under­stood that the pri­ma­ry mat­tered, that the results would count, that return­ing a bal­lot would help influ­ence who got nom­i­nat­ed (well, at least on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic side… the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty made sure Don­ald Trump’s name was the only name on the Repub­li­can ballot).

And con­sid­er this: Even though vot­ers were required to declare a par­ty affil­i­a­tion (Demo­c­ra­t­ic or Repub­li­can) in order to have a returned bal­lot count, more Wash­ing­to­ni­ans checked the box and par­tic­i­pat­ed in the pri­ma­ry than vot­ed in last year’s Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion, when there was an ini­tia­tive, ref­er­en­dum, and con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment on the bal­lot along with thou­sands of local positions.

While it’s not pos­si­ble to make an apples-to-apples com­par­i­son between a nom­i­nat­ing event and an actu­al elec­tion because they are dif­fer­ent things, I still think it’s telling that 221,087 more bal­lots were cast in a nom­i­nat­ing event for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States than were cast at an elec­tion a few months ear­li­er where may­ors, city and coun­ty coun­cilmem­bers, school board mem­bers, port com­mis­sion­ers and more were being elect­ed, main­ly for four year terms.

We know turnout is at its high­est in a pres­i­den­tial year gen­er­al elec­tion. No oth­er type of elec­tion comes close. So imag­ine how many more vot­ers would par­tic­i­pate in decid­ing who their local lead­ers were if that is when we had our local elections.

NPI’s good friend Chris Roberts has writ­ten about this very sub­ject here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, and I’d encour­age you to read his post.

NPI strong­ly sup­ports phas­ing out odd-num­bered year elec­tions so that we can reduce vot­er fatigue, save mon­ey, improve turnout in local elec­tions, and ensure more vot­ers are involved in decid­ing the fate of state-lev­el bal­lot measures.

Half of the ten low­est turnout gen­er­al elec­tions in Wash­ing­ton State his­to­ry have all been in the past two decades, which is troubling.

At least we’re going in the oth­er direc­tion with our pres­i­den­tial primary.

Wash­ing­ton’s top elec­tions offi­cial, Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman — who, as doc­u­ment­ed here, has a his­to­ry of mak­ing over­ly opti­mistic turnout pre­dic­tions — orig­i­nal­ly pre­dict­ed turnout of fifty per­cent in Wash­ing­ton’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, which was well beyond what many coun­ty audi­tors were forecasting.

As The Her­ald of Everett not­ed in an edi­to­r­i­al pub­lished a month ago:

Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman told a gath­er­ing of news­pa­per edi­tors and pub­lish­ers last week that she is expect­ing about fifty per­cent turnout for the pres­i­den­tial primary.

If Wyman had stuck to her fifty per­cent pre­dic­tion, she would have been on the mon­ey for once. But, amus­ing­ly, she did­n’t do that.

Instead, she revised her pre­dic­tion upwards:

Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman told us today she expects turnout to reach fifty-five to six­ty per­cent by the time the elec­tion is certified.

– Anchor David Rose, Q13 Fox, March 9th evening news broadcast

Watch clip:

The next day, right wing radio host Jason Rantz (a big Wyman fan) char­ac­ter­ized her pre­dic­tion as “up to six­ty” as opposed to “fifty-five to sixty”:

Kim Wyman, Sec­re­tary of State, believes it’s going to get up to six­ty because of how many of the votes that are going to come in today.

– KTTH host Jason Rantz, 5:11 PM on Tues­day, March 10th

Our research has found Wyman’s past pre­dic­tions have been over­ly opti­mistic by at least five per­cent­age points and some­times as much as ten or more, so her revised pre­dic­tion fits that pat­tern. Should’ve stuck with the orig­i­nal prediction!

King Coun­ty Elec­tions, on the oth­er hand, was way off. The state’s largest juris­dic­tion con­ser­v­a­tive­ly esti­mat­ed forty per­cent turnout.

Instead, turnout in King Coun­ty was 53.57%. Even though their pre­dic­tion was not in the ball­park, Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise is no doubt thrilled to see more than half of the bal­lots her team mailed out come back for counting.

Coun­ties with the best turnoutCoun­ties with the worst turnout
Best: Jef­fer­son (65.64%)Worst: Yaki­ma (39.45%)
Sec­ond best: San Juan (64.95%)Sec­ond-worst: Adams (40.71%)
Third-best: Clal­lam (56.97%)Third-worst: Franklin (40.79%)
Fourth-best: Wahki­akum (56.54%)Fourth-worst: Ben­ton (43.15%)
Fifth-best: Colum­bia (56.27%)Fifth-worst: Pierce (44.70%)

Wyman seems sat­is­fied with the turnout Wash­ing­ton did see, remark­ing:

“Aside from run­ning an acces­si­ble, secure, and fair elec­tion, my mis­sion was to give vot­ers a greater voice in the nom­i­na­tion process for our nation’s next pres­i­dent. This year’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry turnout shows we accom­plished just that.”

I’m not sure what she means by “we”, because Wyman made her­self an imped­i­ment to efforts to get the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to switch to a pri­ma­ry.

Infu­ri­at­ing­ly, Wyman plans to con­tin­ue advo­cat­ing that a “straw poll” option be added to the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry bal­lot, which would make the pri­ma­ry com­plete­ly unus­able by the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

Here’s an idea: Let’s not do that. Let’s not go back­wards. Let’s focus on improv­ing Wash­ing­ton State’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry for 2024, not ruin­ing it.

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One Comment

  1. Almost broke fifty per­cent! Maybe next time. Nice to get some pos­i­tive news.

    # by Andres Schlink :: March 23rd, 2020 at 8:01 PM
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