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King County sees unprecedented voter turnout for 2019 primary

A King County ballot box. (Nick Bowman, MyNorthwest)

Ballot return data has officially been finalized in King County, indicating a turnout numbering among the best the county has seen in almost two decades.

State midterm voter turnout falls just short of expectations, still impresses

Of all King County’s available primary data dating back to 2000, 2019 marked the best off-year primary voter turnout it’s seen over that period, at 35 percent. That beats the 34 percent milestone set in 2017, as well as 25 percent in 2015, 29 percent in 2013, and 32 percent in 2011. 2011 was the first year Washington state began exclusively using mail-in ballots.

King County and Washington state approved a measure to use prepaid ballot postage for all elections in early 2018, in a bid to increase voter participation. The result saw an almost 20 percent increase in turnout between 2014’s midterm election and 2018.

2019 represented the first big test for prepaid ballot postage for an off-year primary, and by most indications, the system appeared to pass with flying colors.

“It is easier than ever to return your ballot with prepaid postage and nearly 70 drop boxes across King County,” said King County Elections Communications Officer Halei Watkins. “About 95% of voters live within 3 miles of a drop box — and really, with prepaid postage, there’s a drop box at the end of every driveway.”

King County currently has 67 total ballot drop boxes, and hopes to add three more by the general election in November.

Seattle council primary sees a handful of surprises as races take shape

Turnout was even stronger among Seattle’s hotly contested city council races, with all but one checking in above 40 percent. The race for Kshama Sawant’s council seat in District 3 led the way at almost 47 percent.

  • District 1: 41.2 percent
  • District 2: 38.5 percent
  • District 3: 46.9 percent
  • District 4: 44.8 percent
  • District 5: 41.0 percent
  • District 6: 46.8 percent
  • District 7: 45.5 percent

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen so much media interest in a primary and I think that helped remind people that there was an election happening,” said Watkins.

Not everyone managed to get their ballots in under the wire, though. According to King County Elections, over 5,600 people returned their ballots too late. Over 1,600 ballots were rejected because signatures didn’t match what was on file, while 554 were left completely unsigned.

On a national scale, some experts predict that the upcoming 2020 election could end up having the highest voter turnout in over a century.

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