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Washington voter registration hits a four-decade high

There were more Washingtonians registered to vote in the 2016 election than in the past four decades. (AP)

Spurred in part by the nation’s spectacularly contentious 2016 presidential race, Washingtonians have registered to vote in numbers not seen since the dual threat of the Vietnam War and massive Boeing Corp. layoffs, the Washington Secretary of State Office reported Thursday.

With 83 percent of eligible Washington voters registered statewide, the state now has slightly more than 4.2 million potential voters. Ballots are expected to arrive in the mail next week for the 18-day voting window. For comparison, the 2012 presidential race pulled in nearly 10 percent fewer registered voters.

“It’s a really high number,” said David Ammons, spokesman for the Washington Secretary of State’s office. “You have to go back over 40 years to find that degree of engagement.”

The last time the state reached this percentage of registered voters was 1972. President Richard Nixon was steaming toward a second term, as was Washington Gov. Dan Evans. In the Puget Sound, the economy was in the middle of a two-year tailspin after 50,000 jobs were  cut at Boeing in 1970-71. Nearly 85 percent of those eligible registered to vote that year.

Washington voters then and now

The worry effect for Washington voters might be similar this fall, although the regional economy is in better shape than 44 years ago by most measures. The second presidential debate pushed state residents to sign-up in record numbers and set a new one-day record for voter registration.

Even so, national polls show that Washington voters are feeling stressed out by the 2016 election. Ammons said it’s pretty clear that despite the stress, the presidential race is driving people to participate — even though many also say they are tired of the 24/7 election news cycle. Ammons said that even when people get turned off by the election process, they do remain engaged in the outcome.

“I think it is pretty clear that people are watching the presidential race with bated breath,” Ammons said. “People do say they are sickened to death of the campaign cycle, that they are ready to vote.”

And it isn’t simply a presidential race luring voters in. Residents also are facing decisions on a host of contentious ballot measures including those targeting the state minimum wage, Sound Transit funding, Citizens United, gun control and a carbon tax. Additionally, eight statewide offices are on the ballot.

“There’s a lot to really attract people to sign up,” he said. “The next step will be to get people to actually vote that ballot.”

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