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

November 15, 2013 at 1:20 PM

Washington voters snooze – turnout lowest in a decade

Even with ballots delivered right to their mailboxes, most Washington voters didn’t bother to participate in this year’s election.

Statewide turnout was at 44 percent as of Friday — the lowest in a decade. That could tick up above 45 percent once all the votes are finally counted.

Either way, voter participation this year looks to be at its lowest since 2003, when just 40.5 percent of voters cast ballots, according to data from Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office. Her office had predicted a 51 percent statewide turnout.

Turnout is always down in off-year elections, which occur in odd-numbered years and don’t feature high-profile presidential or congressional contests to attract voter interest. Since 1980, turnout in off-year elections has averaged 51 percent, compared with 79 percent in presidential election years and 62 percent during midterm elections.

Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Wyman’s office, noted that unlike 2012 there were no highly charged issues like marijuana legalization or gay marriage on the ballot. Initiative 522, which would have required labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs), didn’t draw the same level of interest, despite record spending by the ‘no’ campaign.

“GMO is a pretty abstract notion that required quite a bit of voter research and the Eyman one (Initiative 517) only vaguely interested people,” Ammons said in an email. “The tax advisory votes probably didn’t draw anyone to vote and, indeed, we heard from a lot of confused voters who didn’t understand the process of a nonbinding vote on something that already happened.”

Turnout in King County was about 47 percent as of Friday, with thousands more votes waiting to be counted. It was higher — about 53 percent — in Seattle, where voters decided a contentious mayor’s race.

Turnout was lowest in Yakima County (37.4 percent) and highest in Jefferson County (64.3 percent).

Even with the relatively low numbers, turnout in Seattle, at least, was stellar compared with some other major cities. New York’s mayoral race drew a record low turnout of 24 percent, according to The New York Times. And in Los Angeles, the mayoral runoff election in May drew a record low turnout of just 23.3 percent, according to the Los Angeles Times.

0 Comments | More in 2014 elections | Topics: voter turnout

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