Ballot processing at King County Elections
A King County Elections worker prepares ballots for intake into one of the agency's two Pitney Bowes Vantage Sorting System processors (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

With the excep­tion of a few recounts and the state cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process, the 2020 gen­er­al elec­tion is in the books. Wash­ing­ton State’s thir­ty-nine coun­ties today cer­ti­fied their returns, com­plet­ing the vote count­ing phase of the state’s 2020 pres­i­den­tial gen­er­al elec­tion. Vot­er turnout reached 84.14% — not quite as high as the 2008 gen­er­al elec­tion twelve years ago, but pret­ty close to a record.

A total of 4,116,894 bal­lots were count­ed in this elec­tion; 4,892,871 vot­ers were reg­is­tered and eli­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate, accord­ing to the state vot­er rolls.

San Juan Coun­ty earned brag­ging rights for the high­est turnout of any coun­ty, with 90.76% par­tic­i­pa­tion, trailed hot­ly by NPI Pres­i­dent Diane Jones’ home coun­ty of Jef­fer­son with 90.06%. (Jef­fer­son and San Juan are, along with King Coun­ty, the state’s three reli­ably lib­er­al strongholds.)

Round­ing out the top ten were Garfield, Colum­bia, What­com, Lin­coln, Kit­ti­tas, Wahkakum, and Skag­it, which all came in between 86% and 89%.

King Coun­ty came in four­teenth in terms of turnout, with 85.35%. King Coun­ty Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise had set an auda­cious goal of 90% turnout, which was not real­ized. Still, the coun­ty saw its best ever performance.

“Out of 1.4 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers in King Coun­ty, 86.67% turned out this elec­tion, break­ing the last record of 85% in 2012,” King Coun­ty Elec­tions announced in a press release cel­e­brat­ing the end of counting.

“This year over 909,000 (73.9%) vot­ers returned their bal­lots to bal­lot drop box­es, with more than 307,000 (24.98%) return­ing by mail and over 13,500 (1.1%) by fax. A lit­tle over 10,000 (0.85%) bal­lots were reject­ed for sig­na­ture issues, and 707 (0.06%) were returned too late, mak­ing up just 0.91% of total ballots.”

Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton’s Yaki­ma Coun­ty again came in last in terms of turnout, with 75.95% par­tic­i­pa­tion. Adams, Franklin, Grays Har­bor, Grant, Asotin, Spokane, Ska­ma­nia, and Ben­ton are the oth­er coun­ties in the bot­tom ten.

While vot­ing over­whelm­ing­ly against Don­ald Trump, vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton State opt­ed to keep every incum­bent who sought reelec­tion in the state’s exec­u­tive depart­ment, with the lone excep­tion of Repub­li­can State Trea­sur­er Duane David­son, who was oust­ed in favor of Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Mike Pellicciotti.

Vot­ers also returned all of the incum­bent jus­tices to the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court (two were guber­na­to­r­i­al appointees) and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly affirmed the Leg­is­la­ture’s pas­sage of ESSB 5395, Wash­ing­ton’s new com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion law, which was a 2020 NPI leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ty.

The Leg­is­la­ture will have the same bal­ance of pow­er that it had in 2019–2020, with the over­all cau­cus num­bers unchanged, though some Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can incum­bents were sent pack­ing (Repub­li­cans flipped the 19th Dis­trict, while Democ­rats flipped the 28th and also took a seat in the 42nd.)

The House and Sen­ate’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus­es will be more pro­gres­sive and the Repub­li­can cau­cus­es will be more fun­da­men­tal­ist as a result, though the arch­mil­i­tant Matt Shea will no longer be a state legislator.

In King Coun­ty’s 5th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, incum­bent Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Mark Mul­let end­ed the count­ing with a fifty-sev­en vote lead out of over 90,000 votes cast, tri­umph­ing over fel­low Demo­c­rat Ingrid Ander­son by the slimmest of mar­gins. A recount in that race is expect­ed to begin next week.

In Pierce Coun­ty, vot­ers elect­ed a Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty for the first time in near­ly two decades, which will sig­nif­i­cant­ly change the dynam­ics in Wash­ing­ton’s sec­ond largest coun­ty. Pierce Coun­ty will con­tin­ue to have a Repub­li­can exec­u­tive, how­ev­er, as Bruce Dammeier defeat­ed Lar­ry Seaquist to earn a sec­ond term.

This year’s rate of par­tic­i­pa­tion was like the day to 2019’s night.

In the 2019 gen­er­al elec­tion, only 2,035,401 Wash­ing­to­ni­ans returned bal­lots. More than twice that num­ber vot­ed this year, which real­ly under­scores the point we’ve been mak­ing about the impor­tance of phas­ing out odd-year elec­tions. Par­tic­i­pa­tion mat­ters. There’s an enor­mous dif­fer­ence between a gen­er­al elec­tion in which over 84% of vot­ers par­tic­i­pate ver­sus an elec­tion in which only 45.19% par­tic­i­pate (as was the case last year), or 37.10% (as was the case in 2017).

Our south­ern neigh­bor Ore­gon and our north­ern neigh­bor British Colum­bia both hold state/provincial elec­tions less fre­quent­ly than we do. It’s time we rec­og­nized that see­saw­ing between real­ly great turnout in even num­bered years and real­ly bad turnout in odd num­bered years is dumb. Let’s hold elec­tions in even num­bered years like 2020 and ensure local elec­tions get the same robust par­tic­i­pa­tion that pres­i­den­tial and midterm elec­tions already do.

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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