Ballot return statistics for the 2022 general election
Ballot return statistics for the 2022 general election

This after­noon, the three-week count­ing phase of the 2022 midterm gen­er­al elec­tion in Wash­ing­ton came to an end when elec­tions offi­cials across the state’s thir­ty-nine coun­ties — from King to Garfield — cer­ti­fied their returns.

Every coun­ty’s sta­tus on now shows as “Final.” Turnout is shown as 63.81% of reg­is­tered vot­ers vot­ing — which is more than three-fifths turnout but not quite two-thirds. As it turns out, that’s aver­age for a midterm.

64.59% of vot­ers returned bal­lots, but sev­er­al tens of thou­sands were reject­ed and not count­ed, which is why the turnout fig­ure does­n’t match the returned fig­ure. There were a total of 37,755 chal­lenged bal­lots, a rate of 1.22%.

3,067,070 returned bal­lots were accept­ed and count­ed from 4,806,882 reg­is­tered Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers in the election.

How turnout compares to previous midterms

Not includ­ing this year’s turnout, the mean for midterms going back to 1938 (the ear­li­est com­pa­ra­ble cycle for which there is data avail­able) is 63.52%.

This year’s par­tic­i­pa­tion rate, 63.81%, is just above that.

Not low­er, not high­er, but right on average.

Below is a table show­ing vot­er turnout in all midterm elec­tions in Wash­ing­ton State going back to 1938. Data is cour­tesy of the Sec­re­tary of State.

The worst midterm turnout on record was in 1950 (rose-col­ored row); the best midterm turnout so far was twen­ty years lat­er, in 1970 (gold-col­ored row).

And here’s a line chart for more perspective:

Com­pared to recent midterms, 2022 turnout is:

  • not as good as 2018 or 2010 were (Trump / Oba­ma eras)
  • not as bad as 2014 or 2002 were (Oba­ma / Bush eras)
  • sim­i­lar to what 2006 was (Bush era)

Unlike in 2010 and 2014 — the Oba­ma-era midterms — Democ­rats per­formed spec­tac­u­lar­ly well in Wash­ing­ton State, show­ing that the par­ty is capa­ble of hav­ing a good midterm cycle even when it con­trols the presidency.

The Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty built and oper­at­ed a first-rate coor­di­nat­ed cam­paign effort that turned out the Demo­c­ra­t­ic vote. Moti­vat­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers turned Novem­ber into “Rovem­ber,” help­ing the par­ty flip a Repub­li­can con­gres­sion­al seat in the 3rd Dis­trict with Marie Glue­senkamp Perez and reelect Dr. Kim Schri­er to to the House in the 8th Con­gres­sion­al District.

Schri­er’s mar­gin of vic­to­ry is actu­al­ly greater than it was in 2020, which shows how incred­i­bly well Democ­rats were able to do in a key con­gres­sion­al race.

At the leg­isla­tive lev­el, instead of los­ing seats, Democ­rats gained seats.

The 42nd LD will now have an all-Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­isla­tive del­e­ga­tion thanks to a vic­to­ry by Sharon Shew­make in the hard-fought Sen­ate race there, while Joe Tim­mons was able to hold onto Shew­make’s House seat.

Shew­make’s seat­mate Ali­cia Rule also won reelection.

Every sup­pos­ed­ly vul­ner­a­ble Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent was reelect­ed, and Democ­rats also appear to have nar­row­ly knocked out Greg Gil­day in the 10th Dis­trict with Clyde Shavers despite an “Octo­ber sur­prise” cour­tesy of Shavers’ father. With no bal­lots left to count in Island, Sno­homish, or Skag­it coun­ties, Shavers has a 211 vote lead over Gil­day, which ought to hold up to a recount if there is one.

Flab­ber­gast­ed Repub­li­cans have been ask­ing them­selves how they blew it.

One dis­cus­sion thread on mil­i­tant Repub­li­can State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Wal­sh’s Face­book page ranged from sober reflec­tion to (sad­ly) wild con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries with absolute­ly no basis in real­i­ty. Walsh him­self opined: “There was no ‘red wave’ in WA because Repub­li­can vot­ers did­n’t vote as much as expect­ed. In oth­er words, 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝘄𝗮𝘀 𝗮 𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗻𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗯𝗹𝗲𝗺.” (Empha­sis is his).

But not on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic side. Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers turned out and made 2022 — which Repub­li­cans fer­vent­ly believed was going to be a “red wave” year — a blue wave year in Wash­ing­ton instead. Over­all turnout was­n’t as high as in 2018, but since Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers showed up, Democ­rats got good results.

Despite know­ing that midterm elec­tions con­sis­tent­ly have low­er turnout than pres­i­den­tial cycles, Walsh still char­ac­ter­ized 2018 in his Face­book post as being “con­sid­ered a low-turnout year.” He is total­ly wrong on that score. 2018 was actu­al­ly one of our best turnout years. As you can see from the table, it’s our sec­ond-best all time turnout in a midterm, behind only 1970.

So it’s actu­al­ly not a great cycle to com­pare 2022 to. A bet­ter com­par­i­son might be 1994, the first midterm of the Clin­ton pres­i­den­cy, which had some sim­i­lar dynam­ics to this cycle. In that midterm, Wash­ing­ton turnout did not sur­pass 60%.

Repub­li­can vot­ers turned out in droves that year, while many Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers stayed home, result­ing in Democ­rats los­ing a huge num­ber of con­gres­sion­al and leg­isla­tive seats. It took Democ­rats sev­er­al cycles to regain that lost ground.

We could also look at the Carter pres­i­den­cy’s midterm in 1978: turnout then was­n’t much high­er than fifty per­cent. Both of those midterms had below aver­age turnout. 2018 had high­er than usu­al turnout. 2022, mean­while, was typical.

Walsh is right about one thing. He wrote: “Why did­n’t Repub­li­can vot­ers in WA vote as much as expect­ed in what was sup­posed to be a pos­i­tive ‘wave’ elec­tion? That ques­tion will take more time and more data to answer completely.”

Our team believes that Repub­li­cans hurt them­selves by try­ing to cre­ate a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy. In attempt­ing fever­ish­ly to demo­ti­vate Democ­rats, they end­ed up demo­ti­vat­ing their own base. Words that comes to mind when I reflect on how Repub­li­can elect­ed offi­cials approached this elec­tion cycle are arro­gance and enti­tle­ment. They spoke and act­ed as though they were owed a red wave.

The vot­ers had oth­er ideas.

Democ­rats, mean­while, did not take the elec­torate for grant­ed, work­ing instead to to com­pete as effec­tive­ly as they could in a land­scape with ger­ry­man­dered maps, big dark mon­ey, and unfa­vor­able, unfriend­ly media coverage.

The vic­to­ries Democ­rats achieved in 2022 are a tes­ta­ment to what can be accom­plished with hard work and smart invest­ments. A polit­i­cal par­ty that is deter­mined to cre­ate its own luck and shape events rather than being shaped by events is a par­ty that can find elec­toral suc­cess even in the face of great adversity.

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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