Clark County voter turnout again abysmal

At 37 percent, it's likely to tie for lowest in state

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Clark County's streak of dismal voter turnout remains unbroken.

According to preliminary figures from the Secretary of State's office, Clark had one of the lowest turnouts in the Nov. 5 general election among the state's 39 counties. Of 246,865 registered voters countywide, ballots from 90,907 people have been tabulated and another 1,500 ballots are left to be counted today.

Many other counties still have ballots to count, but Clark appears on track to finish in the bottom two with Yakima County, each with 37 percent, once final results are in.

Average turnout among all counties, reported at 41 percent on Nov. 9, is on pace to hit 44 percent once results are certified later this month.

Counties with the greatest voter participation included Wahkiakum, San Juan and Jefferson, each with turnout exceeding 60 percent.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said Monday he wasn't surprised to hear Clark was near the bottom, as the county has consistently lagged behind other counties in terms of voter turnout. Kimsey had predicted turnout of 42 percent, but even that proved too optimistic.

Of all types of general elections — presidential, midterm and odd year — the odd-year elections attract the fewest voters.

Kimsey said the turnout was negatively affected by the number of statewide and local advisory votes. Even among those who did vote, many skipped some questions.

Kimsey said he heard from several people who were confused about what they were being asked. The statewide advisory votes were regarding tax increases, and voters were asked whether the increase should be repealed or maintained.

"People are very proud of their vote," Kimsey said. "There were people who wanted to know all of the pros and cons of dental surgery for children, and if they didn't have enough information on it, they weren't going to vote."

Another difficult topic for voters, Kimsey said, was the county freeholder races. The number of voters who skipped freeholder races varied from position to position, but people weren't going to vote for someone just for the sake of completing a ballot, he said.

The long election season may have played a factor, too. The county mailed the ballots on Oct. 16.

"I have heard from people who say they receive the ballot, they set it aside with every good intention of voting, but it just slips their mind. And that's unfortunate," Kimsey said. "But the other side of that is, if we required every single person to go to a polling place on Election Day, there would be reasons they couldn't make it, either because they are ill or out of town."

In 2005, the county switched to all-mail balloting to reduce the chance of errors.

The general election cost an estimated $493,000, approximately $50,000 more than other odd-year elections, Kimsey said earlier. Those costs cover printing and mailing ballots, hiring 90 temporary employees and combining the local voters guide with the statewide Voters' Pamphlet.

Clark is one of only about 10 counties that still produce a printed local voters pamphlet, and that alone costs $90,000.

Kimsey doesn't know what else his office can do to increase voter participation, saying his job is to ensure registered voters receive ballots and that election results are accurate.