Low ballot return rate for Washington’s Nov. 7 general election

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(The Center Square) – Tuesday is Election Day in Washington state. Voters need to drop off their ballots or get them postmarked and mailed by 8 p.m. to be counted. But thus far, less than one in five have done so.

While odd-year elections tend to see less voter turnout, this year’s ballot return rate has been particularly low, according to preliminary figures compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office. Washington, which conducts all-mail elections, has nearly 4.83 million active registered voters, but only 769,155 ballots had been returned to county auditors as of Friday, a rate of just 15.93%.

There are no statewide candidates or measures for the Nov. 7 election, but voters in 39 counties will be deciding the outcome of over 3,000 grassroots races for city councils, school boards, and a host of specialty districts including public ports, hospitals, water, sewer, cemetery and fire districts.

Also, depending on location, voters will decide 128 different measures, such as levy or bond propositions, around the state.

Although local in nature, some of the races have a high profile. The mayoral contest in Spokane between incumbent Nadine Woodward and challenger Lisa Brown has collectively raised over $1 million in contributions to the two candidates’ campaigns with much more spent by special interest groups on their behalf.

In the Tri-Cities, voters in the Richland School District will be deciding who serves on the five-member school board after three were recalled from office earlier this year.

And there’s big money involved in some of the ballot measures. In Seattle, voters will consider a seven-year, $970 million replacement property-tax levy to build 3,000 affordable housing units.

In addition, there’s a trio of contested superior court judicial positions: one in Mason County and two in Snohomish County. Six other judgeships are uncontested: four in state appellate courts and one each in Benton and Jefferson County superior courts. The candidates and their profiles can be viewed via an online voters’ guide.

“This election is an opportunity to make important local decisions in every county across the state,” Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said in press release last month. “Washington’s elections are fair and transparent, and our priority is to continue providing trustworthy and convenient access to empower voters in every community.”

Hobbs’ office has a comprehensive list of the more than 4,000 candidates who filed for office this year. Virtually all of the elective positions are nonpartisan with most terms beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

The Secretary of State’s Office also has online quick links to data and resources for the upcoming election including registration information, results from past elections, fact sheets, and more. Drop box locations, ballot status, and voter guides are also available at VoteWA.gov or by contacting your local county auditor or elections office.

Unregistered individuals ages 18 and older who want to participate in the upcoming election can sign up in person at their county election office until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Thus far, it’s older voters who are most likely to take part in the election, according to statistics compiled by the Secretary of State. Over 33% of registered voters age 65 and older have already returned their ballots, twice the state average. The return percentages then consistently drop by age group: 17.7% for those ages 55-64, 11.3% for ages 45-54, 8.7% for ages 35-44, 5.9% for ages 25-34, and bottoming out at 4.4% for those ages 18-24.

Two of Washington’s least-populated counties lead the state in percentage of returned ballots. Columbia County, with just 2,860 registered voters, has a return rate of 29.9%, followed by Lincoln County with 27.1% of its 8,446 voters marking their ballots.

The dubious distinction of lowest return rates belongs to two of Washington’s largest counties. At the bottom of the list lies Pierce County with 555,283 registered voters and an 11.4% return rate. That’s followed by Clark County with 332,377 eligible voters and a return rate of 12%. King County has over 1.38 million voters and a 14.5% return.

Of those who have returned their ballots to date, 62.3% mailed them in while 37.5% opted to use a designated drop box. Less than 1% used some “other” method – most likely walking them into a county elections office.

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