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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

November 5, 2013 at 7:00 AM

As Election Day arrives, ballots coming in slowly

Washington’s 2013 election has drawn national media attention — and record-setting initiative spending. But voters? They’re not particularly tuned in, elections officials say.

With vote counting beginning today in the all-mail election, Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office projects 51 percent turnout statewide.

That’s an average turnout for an off-year election, “and we don’t see anything that would have it depart from that,” said David Ammons, spokesman for Wyman’s office. This year’s ballot is “not utterly boring, or scintillating,” he said.

The big-ticket item for political spending is Initiative 522, which would require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Foes of that measure set a state record by raising more than $22 million to defeat it, while the Yes on 522 committee raised about $8 million. Virtually all that cash flowed from outside the state. Voters also are deciding the fate of Initiative 517, which would make it easier to place future initiatives on the ballot.

Higher turnout is expected in Seattle, where voters will decide whether to return Mayor Mike McGinn to a second term or replace him with state Sen. Ed Murray. That race has set fundraising records, too, with more than $2.6 million pulled in by the campaigns and independent expenditure groups.

Proposals to elect the city council by districts and have publicly financed elections also are on the Seattle ballot, along with a spirited challenge to longtime City Councilmember Richard Conlin by socialist Kshama Sawant.

In the city of SeaTac, meanwhile, an initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for many airport-related businesses has become a closely watched battle between business and labor organizations. They’ve spent nearly $2 million to sway the vote in the town of 26,909, with large contributions from out-of-state groups.

King County Elections officials predict 57 percent turnout in Seattle and 53 percent in the rest of the county, for an overall average of 55 percent.

But so far, ballots have been coming in more slowly than predicted. “We’re not sure if fewer people are voting or if they’re taking their time,” said Kim van Ekstrom, spokesperson for the elections office.

To be valid, ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday or placed in vote drop boxes by 8 p.m.

As of Monday, 210,000 voters had returned ballots to King County — fewer than 18 percent of the county’s 1.2 million registered voters.

King County plans to release one set of election results Tuesday night at about 8:15 p.m.

Comments | More in 2014 elections | Topics: 2013 elections, 2013 Seattle mayoral race, Initiative 522

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