OLYMPIA — High-profile national, state and local races will likely increase voter turnout to levels well above those of the last three years, according to state and county officials. As of Tuesday, 25,779 Clark County voters had turned in their ballots for the Aug. 7 primary.
Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey predicts county participation for the primary will be 38 percent, the same as the last presidential election year in 2008, and nearly double last year's primary election turnout. Higher turnout rates during presidential election years are the norm, Kimsey said.
However, because so many residents work in Oregon, Clark County is known for its low voter turnout. In the 2008 primary, Clark County had the second-lowest turnout in the state -- King was the only county with a lower rate.
To help boost voter participation, the auditor's office mails local voter pamphlets out for the primary as well as the general election. This is not something many counties do, Kimsey said.
"It absolutely helps turnout," he said.
Advice for voters from Secretary of State Sam Reed
• Don’t overreact to negative ads.
• Don’t focus too much on one issue.
• Do check out candidates’ websites.
• Do find out who supports candidates by clicking here.
• Do read newspaper endorsements.
• Do talk to friends in the political loop.
• Do read the state and county primary voter pamphlets. Both are online; the county’s was also mailed to voters.
State voter pamphlet.
Clark County voter pamphlet.
Kimsey stressed the importance of voting in the primary. Judicial offices — including those elected to the state Supreme Court — are elected during the primary. And because primary turnout rates are always lower than those for the general election, each vote is worth a little more, he said.
Registered voters should have received their primary ballots by Friday. Those who haven't should contact the county auditor's office immediately at 360-397-2345.
While it is too late to register to vote for the primary, people still have time to register or change an address before the general election. Voters can register online or by mail by Oct. 8, or in person at the county auditor's office by Oct. 29.
The state outlook
Secretary of State Sam Reed projected a 46 percent voter turnout statewide for the primary. If reached, this level of participation would be the best since 1980.
Reed attributes his high prediction to an exciting election year. With four statewide seats up for grabs, including governor, and interesting local races, people are getting more tuned in, he said.
"I don't think it's going to be off-the-charts kind of turnout, but I do think it's going to be a little higher than usual," he said.
Clark County has a historically lower turnout, he said. He attributed this to the dominance of the Oregon media in the county. While those in the greater Seattle area are constantly exposed to television and radio ads for Washington candidates, Clark County residents often miss out on some ads.
Despite the low turnout, Reed commended Clark County's elections office.
"The county auditor's office has always been one of the best in the state, and they work at it real
diligently," he said. "But you just can't manufacture it. It has to come from people getting enthusiastic about what's going to happen."
Reed said Washington's "wide open" primary system helps boost voter participation, especially in the primary. Since 1988, turnout for state primaries in presidential election years has averaged 43 percent.
"We get vastly better turnout than most states get in their primaries around the country," he said. "Some states are single-digit turnout — 8 percent, 12, 14 percent, that kind of thing."
Since 2008, Washington has used a top two primary system, which means the top two vote-getters in each race will move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Washington voters can choose whichever candidate they prefer; they are not required to vote along party lines. This flexibility makes the state's system one of the least restrictive in the country, Reed said.
But even with flexible voting systems, the majority of registered voters still don't vote in the primary. While Reed said it's better not to vote than to be an uninformed voter who marks a ballot based on name recognition, there's no excuse not to vote in the primary.
"In the state of Washington we have an advantage," he said. "We're vote-by-mail, so those ballots are going to be sitting in your house for almost three weeks. And if you don't have time on a Sunday morning or a Tuesday evening or sometime to sit down and look through your information, then there's something wrong with you. In other words, I think it is very important for people — even busy, busy people — to make time. Because this is their duty as citizens of our country and it's their government. And if they're going to complain about how their members of the Legislature act, or Congress act, well they better darn well have a positive role in terms of determining who these people are by casting an informed ballot."