OLYMPIA — Heading into Tuesday’s primary, Washington’s nearly 4.6 million voters received their ballot in the mail, just as they have in previous elections, long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.
And voters have quite a bit to decide as they narrow down the candidates in an election where the top two vote getters advance to the November election, regardless of party: a governor’s race that has drawn 35 opponents to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who is seeking a third term; a lieutenant governor’s office that became an open seat once current Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib announced he was leaving to become a Jesuit priest; and an open seat in the 10th Congressional District that has drawn 19 candidates after Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny Heck announced he was retiring, and then subsequently announced a run for lieutenant governor.
Inslee dropped his presidential bid last year and decided instead to seek a rare third gubernatorial term. Governors in Washington state aren’t subject to term limits, though most haven’t served more than two terms. The last three-term governor in Washington was Republican Gov. Dan Evans, who served from 1965 until 1977.
Of the nearly three dozen challengers Inslee faces, a handful of Republicans have raised the most in their effort: Joshua Freed, the former mayor of Bothell; Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic, in Eastern Washington; anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman; Yakima doctor Raul Garcia; and state Sen. Phil Fortunato.
In a Crosscut/Elway poll conducted July 11-15, 46 percent surveyed said they were inclined to vote for Inslee. Of his contenders, Culp had the most support at 14 percent, followed by 6 percent for Garcia, with 24 percent undecided. A Republican has not occupied the governor’s office in more than three decades.
Because ballots can be deposited in local drop boxes or postmarked up until Tuesday, results may take days to come in as the ballots arrive in elections offices throughout the week.
In Yakima County, one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus, elections officials there just finished renovation this month to provide adequate spacing and barriers for more than a dozen elections employees.
Yakima County Auditor Charles Ross said that while the main impact of the pandemic is reflected in their newly configured office, and other safety protocols, such as masks, his hope is that for voters, their experience won’t be any different from previous years.
“The voters of Washington state are used to voting from home,” he said.