OLYMPIA – Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed is predicting the best midterm election turnout in 40 years – 66 percent. Most voters will cast ballots by mail, and ballots go out later this week, with Nov. 2 as the postmark return deadline.
Reed, the state’s chief elections officer, said hotly contested races and ballots measures, heavy television spending, and fired-up grassroots activists all combine to suggest a strong turnout. He said participation should exceed the 64.6 percent of 2006, the most recent midterm election, when turnout is always lower than the main presidential year election. The turnout was a record 85 percent in 2008.
His forecast would be the most robust for a midterm election since 1970, when almost 72 percent of the registered voters cast ballots. In more recent years, the midterm turnout has averaged around 60 percent.
King County, home to almost a third of the electorate, forecasts a 68 percent turnout – 69 percent in Seattle and 67 percent in the rest of the county.
Washington has 3.6 million registered voters, the second largest electorate in the West, following California.
“Our election season will soon be underway, and people are clearly fired-up,” Reed said Monday. “We have a very enthused electorate this year, as demonstrated by the good turnout for the primary, the great interest here and nationally in our U.S. Senate race and good contests up and down the ticket, all across the state of Washington.”
The main online and mail-in voter registration deadline has passed, but first-time Washington voters may apply in person at county election offices until Oct. 25.
Wednesday is the first day that voters can go into their election office and get their ballot, and many counties will begin sending out ballots that day. Friday is the legal deadline for all ballots to be in the mail. A small portion of Pierce County’s electorate will use polling places, but all 38 other counties have switched entirely to vote-by-mail.
State Elections Director Nick Handy said there are a number of trends that suggest a surge in interest in this election:
--The excellent turnout in the primary (41 percent, a modern record) was a clear indication of an active electorate.
--Voting by mail makes the process more convenient and promotes a somewhat higher participation. King County joined the VBM counties last year, and that fact alone should boost turnout a bit.
--Ballot measures – six citizen initiatives and three measures placed on the ballot by the Legislature – are generating heavy debate and campaign spending, including saturation broadcast spots.
--The U.S. Senate race, which could be pivotal to partisan control of the Senate, has generated heavy spending, and added great attention as a top-of-ballot contest.
--Many tight races for the Legislature, the U.S. House, and other offices are generating great interest.
--The political climate nationally is generating unusual attention to the election.
“The voters are awake,” Handy said.
Reed reminds voters to study the voter information available to them, including state and local voters pamphlets, MyVote and online and video voters guides, to learn more about the candidates and the issues before filling out their ballot. Visit www.vote.wa.gov and county election websites.