OLYMPIA — Washington voters turned out in impressive numbers — impressive for a primary, anyway — in last week’s election.
With a few thousand ballots still to count, turnout stands at 40.46 percent, which state elections officials say is better than expected for an even but non presidential year primary. They’d been predicting 38 percent, but aren’t unhappy about being wrong on the low side.
Two years ago, with a bunch of statewide offices on the primary ballot and the excitement of a presidential race in the air (albeit not on the primary ballot), primary turnout hit 42.6 percent. That was the state’s first foray into the Top Two primary system; the primary in 2006, which like this year featured a U.S. Senate race, was 38.8. The 2002 primary, which had no Senate race, was 34.4 percent.
Something else happened in that interim: All the counties except Pierce County gradually went to all mail balloting.
So it would seem that having a big statewide contest like a U.S. Senate race is good for an extra 2% or so in generating turnout, and mail balloting may be good for another 2%.
But the overall turnout suggests that the national pundits talk about disaffected voters may be as valid as their talk about anti-establishment trends, at least in Washington. If anything, ballots came in a little stronger than normal, and in the Senate race, more pro-establishment than anti-establishment, considering Republican Dino Rossi handily defeated insurgent Clint Didier, and Democrat Patty Murray pulled down 46 percent of the vote.
Looking forward to the general election, there may be one worrisome statistic for Rossi: He won three of the four counties with the highest turnout rates, but they’re fairly small counties as far as population and votes don’t have much room to grow in the general. Three of the four counties with the lowest turnout are where Murray did better, and they have the state’s highest population. One of them is King County, where she got twice as many votes, and only 37 percent of the voters cast ballots in the primary.