For too many undervoters, it’s the party, not the person

Published:

 

Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

Voters, apparently, often are influenced by the party of the candidates.

OK, OK, we knew that, just like we know that water is wet and fire is hot. It doesn’t take some fancy algorithm or some mountain-top guru to tell us that many voters look for “prefers Republican Party” or “prefers Democratic Party” before they read the attached names. Still, a glance at the undervotes in this year’s election has confirmed that old truism of politics.

Undervotes occur when an elector turns in a ballot but does not express a preference in a particular race. This often is understandable; goodness knows it can be difficult to keep straight the candidates for cemetery district commissioner, and an undervote is preferable to an uninformed one. Then there are times when an undervote serves as a form of protest, with the elector essentially saying that none of the candidates are worthy of support.

Sometimes an undervote occurs when a voter did not properly mark their ballot for a race. But Washington provides for that; the Secretary of State’s website reads, “We are a ‘voter intent’ state and voters are not disenfranchised merely because they mark a ballot differently than directed. Stated simply, when voter intent can be discerned, the vote will be counted.” No hanging chads here.

But we digress. Let’s get back to the matter at hand, the matter of undervotes. Now that the 2016 election results in Clark County have been certified, we can examine which races fell short in piquing the interest of voters. You know, like the race for state Treasurer.

That one featured Duane Davidson and Michael Waite, and it was unique in pitting two Republicans against each other in a statewide election. In Clark County, 17 percent of the 210,760 people who turned in ballots declined to cast a vote in this race, apparently wondering, “Hey, where is the Democrat?” Which is interesting, because while Davidson and Waite were both Republicans, there were vast differences in how they would approach the job; there were vast differences in their philosophy about the role of the state Treasurer, and therefore vast differences in the impact they can have upon Washington.

Both were worthy candidates, and Davidson won with 58 percent of the vote. But statewide, more than 600,000 voters did not see fit to vote in the contest.

Then there was the race for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is a nonpartisan position. In Clark County, 23 percent of the people who voted did not mark their ballots for either Chris Reykdal or Erin Jones. Again, this is predictable, in that many voters look for party affiliation rather than studying the candidates, yet it is rather disturbing.

Votes do matter

Such is the fickleness of voters. Keeping track of all the candidates can be difficult, particularly in a presidential election year when Washington also has all nine state executive positions on the ballot and Clark County has all of its legislative spots up for grabs.

Locally, the only legislative race that was remotely close was that between Vicki Kraft and Sam Kim for state representative from the 17th District. Kraft won by 1,967 votes in a contest that included 5,314 undervotes. It stretches credulity, but if all the undervoters had chosen a candidate and 70 percent of them went for Kim, he would have won the election.

In most contested elections featuring a Democrat and a Republican, the undervote typically is between 8 and 10 percent. And, again, a nonvote is better than a guess or a coin flip.

But for anybody who believes that undervotes are insignificant, we refer you to the 2012 county commission election between Marc Boldt and David Madore. That race saw more than 35,000 undervotes in a county-wide election, and Madore won by 13,861. The other county race on that ballot, in which Tom Mielke was re-elected, saw a more typical 17,000 undervotes.

We’ll just consider that a reminder that votes do matter, regardless of the candidates’ party.