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, November 1st, 2021

Washington’s general election voter turnout is about as low as in other recent odd years

Last year, Wash­ing­to­ni­ans vot­ed for elec­tors for Pres­i­dent, Vice Pres­i­dent, nine statewide offices, and even more down­bal­lot races in near-record num­bers, with statewide turnout sur­pass­ing 80%. This year, how­ev­er, we appear set to regress to a per­cent­age typ­i­cal for recent odd-num­bered local elec­tion cycles, which is to say that turnout prob­a­bly isn’t going to get above the low forties.

As of this morn­ing, statewide turnout stood at 16.7%, slight­ly above the 16% mark at this same junc­ture in 2017, which was the year that we saw the worst gen­er­al elec­tion turnout in state his­to­ry, but worse than 2019, when turnout as of the morn­ing before Elec­tion Day was 19.4%.

How­ev­er, it’s impor­tant to note that these statewide fig­ures don’t reflect the lat­est num­bers from King Coun­ty. The most recent state data for King Coun­ty stops at 10/29/2021 (Fri­day), but King Coun­ty Elec­tions actu­al­ly updat­ed its bal­lot return sta­tis­tics just last night, so the num­bers for the state’s largest sub­di­vi­sion have changed and are not yet reflect­ed in the state’s compilation.

On Fri­day, King Coun­ty turnout stood at 15.48%. How­ev­er, as of sun­set on Hal­loween, it was 16.30%, with 227,887 bal­lots returned and 1,398,046 active reg­is­tered vot­ers. Seat­tle turnout is a bit high­er than the coun­ty as a whole, with 19.55% in. How­ev­er, oth­er cities are see­ing high­er turnout, includ­ing Mer­cer Island (22.69%), Med­i­na (21.80%), and Nor­mandy Park (20.55%).

Like in past years, small coun­ties such as Colum­bia and Jef­fer­son have the high­est rates of return. Colum­bia has 35.3% of bal­lots in, fol­lowed by Jef­fer­son at 28.8%. Stevens is third with 26.7%, Chelan is fourth with 26.6%, and Garfield is fifth with 26.2%. All of these coun­ties have small­er pop­u­la­tions than indi­vid­ual medi­um-sized cities like Red­mond and Kirk­land in King County.

Of the more pop­u­lous coun­ties (defined for the pur­pos­es of this post as coun­ties with over 100,000 vot­ers), What­com is the turnout leader at 20.3% in, trailed by Spokane (20.2%) and Thurston (20.1%). Then it’s Kit­sap with 19.5% in and Ben­ton with 18.5% in. King Coun­ty is behind those five, but it’s ahead of its neigh­bors Sno­homish and Pierce, with have 14.7% and 12.4%, respectively.

Pierce’s 12.4% turnout is the worst in the state right now, even worse than Yaki­ma, which can often be found at the bot­tom of the list of the state’s list of thir­ty-nine coun­ties with respect to turnout. Wor­ry­ing­ly, Pierce has increas­ing­ly been a turnout lag­gard in recent odd-num­bered elec­tion cycles. It is the state’s sec­ond largest sub­di­vi­sion, with over half a mil­lion voters.

If, like us, you’d like to see our turnout num­bers go high­er, then make calls and send texts to peo­ple you know to remind them about the election.

As I wrote in 2019:

There are no “off” years… every elec­tion year is an “on” year… so ban­ish that term from your vocab­u­lary and make sure peo­ple you know have voted.

We are blessed to live in a demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­lic where we get to choose our lead­ers as opposed to an author­i­tar­i­an regime where we have no voice and no vote in our gov­er­nance. Vot­ing is an impor­tant oblig­a­tion of citizenship.

There are no accept­able excus­es for not vot­ing, espe­cial­ly not when three weeks are pro­vid­ed to fill out and return bal­lots, which is the case here in Washington.

So please: Talk to your col­leagues, fam­i­ly, and friends about tomorrow’s elec­tion. Ask them if they’ve vot­ed. If they have, thank them.

And if they haven’t, offer to help them make a plan for vot­ing. Research shows that peo­ple are more like­ly to vote when they make a plan to vote.

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