OLYMPIA – Secretary of State Sam Reed, Washington’s chief elections official, is predicting a strong 46 percent turnout for the state’s first-ever Top 2 primary.
That would be the best primary voter participation in years.
“We’re expecting a good, strong turnout across Washington,” Reed says. “Our voters are intrigued by our new Top 2 system of voting, which once again allows them to pick their favorite candidate for each office, without regard to party. This should be very popular – it’s the Washington tradition to `vote for the person, not the party.’ Even though there are not a lot of hotly contested primaries, we believe the level of interest is very high in this presidential and gubernatorial election year and that we will get a good turnout.”
Reed said voter participation is aided by the ease and popularity of vote-by-mail. All counties except King and Pierce now are all vote-by-mail and about nine out of 10 primary votes are expected to be cast by this method. The prevalence of mail-voters has soared in recent years as laws were changed to allow permanent absentee voting and to permit counties to switch from poll-site voting if they wish. In 2000, there was only one all vote-by-mail county. In 2004, there were five and today, 37 of the 39 counties vote this way.
The Secretary of State’s office is doing a heavy multi-media voter education campaign, using print, radio and television PSAs, Web-based materials, speeches, and statewide speaking tours and media contacts to explain the Top 2 system and promote turnout. The theme is “Your Vote is Your Voice.”
Reed predicted no falloff because of the earlier primary date, in August instead of the previous mid-September date, and said the new Top 2 system should “bump” the turnout. The popular new system, approved by the voters by 60 percent in 2004 and recently upheld by a 7-2 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, replaces a “pick-a-party” system that confined voters to only one party’s line of candidates. The new system allows a voter to pick one favorite for each office without regard to party.
Candidates have designated the party label they prefer, but that doesn’t mean the party has endorsed or identified with the candidate. In some districts, the finalists will prefer the same party.
“This system is remarkably simple _ the top two voter favorites move on to the General Election,” Reed says. “This is about empowering voters.”
The Top 2 primary isn’t a nominating election, but gives voters the power to winnow the candidate field to their favorite finalists for the November election. The two top vote-getters for each partisan office will advance to the general election. For more information, visit www.vote.wa.gov.
The 46 percent primary turnout would be the strongest in a generation. Some recent participation figures for presidential years:
• 2004, 45.14 percent.
• 2000, 40.80 percent.
• 1996, 42 percent
• 1992, 45.8 percent.
• 1988, 42 percent.
• 1984, 41 percent.
• 1980, 40 percent.
• 1976, 44 percent.
• 1972, 49.4 percent.
Washington has 3.41 million registered voters as of July 30.
Reed acknowledged that election turnouts are candidate- and issue-driven, and that a downward factor in this primary is a lack of numerous competitive-high profile races. There is no U.S. Senate race here this year, and Gov. Chris Gregoire and challenger Dino Rossi are widely expected to advance to the General Election.