Washington state officials ‘dumbfounded’ by low early voter turnout

Nov 5, 2019, 11:55 AM | Updated: 4:36 pm
seattle, king county, ballot, voter turnout...
A King County ballot box. (Nick Bowman, MyNorthwest)
(Nick Bowman, MyNorthwest)

Local elections in odd years don’t tend to bring high turnouts, but with car tabs, affirmative action, Snohomish County’s Sheriff, and seven Seattle council seats on the ballot, there’s an expectation that more voters want their voices to be heard. To that end, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman still expects a large showing from voters, but she remains baffled as to why early turnout remains startlingly low.

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“I’m kind of dumbfounded myself,” Wyman told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. “I mean, look at the Seattle City Council races — we have seven on the ballot and they’re pretty contentious. You think that would be driving turnout … I’m at a loss.”

According to Wyman, roughly 21 percent of ballots were turned in across Washington state as of Monday, and then 25 percent as of 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Based on past trends — and the propensity of voters to wait until the last minute — she expects turnout to end up somewhere just above 40 percent.

“Remember, we usually get about half the ballots in election week — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — when the ballots post mark,” Wyman later told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show. “I think a lot of people are just holding on until the last minute. At least I hope so. But I’m still optimistic.”

If Washington does clear the 40 percent threshold, that would mark the highest odd-year voter turnout since 2003, when 40.5 percent of voters turned in ballots. Turnout over the last five odd-year elections was well below that mark.

  • 2017: 37.1 percent
  • 2015: 38.5 percent
  • 2013: 26 percent
  • 2011: 29.5 percent
  • 2009: 31 percent

Wyman suspects low early turnout for this election could be driven by a variety of factors, including a laundry list of advisory votes on the table this year.

“I think it might be the advisory votes because there’s so many — there’s 12 on the ballot,” she noted. “I think people looked at the ballot, went, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to take more time.'”

As for why Washington voters have so many advisory votes to sift through, you can thank anti-tax activist Tim Eyman.

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“A few years ago, Tim Eyman ran initiative 960, and that was (for a) two-thirds majority to pass any tax or fee. The court, of course, threw it out, but there was one little provision that created these advisory votes,” Wyman described.

If you’re still need to turn in your ballot today, you have until 8 p.m. to leave it in a drop box. Around 8:05 p.m., Wyman expects the first results to begin trickling in, and then posted by the state around 8:30 p.m. Check back here for results.

Ballot drop-box locations:

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Washington state officials ‘dumbfounded’ by low early voter turnout