OLYMPIA -- It must be time for mid-terms. A pair of political watchdog groups is giving out grades for the states. Washington is passing; Idaho may be headed for summer school.
The Pew Charitable Trust released its biannual ratings on how the states handled elections. They collect so much data -- 16 categories on everything from turnout to registration to the ability to look up voting information -- they're almost two years behind and are releasing the report for the 2012 presidential election cycle.
Washington ranks 12th, keeping it in the top 25 percent of states for the three cycles the group has measured. Turnout was down slightly from 2008. The organization lists turnout the state's turnout for 2012 at 65 percent, which may sound low if you recall the state listed its turnout at 81.25 percent when all the ballots were counted that year.
That's because Pew and many states figure turnout differently. Washington takes the total number of registered voters, and divides it into the number of ballots cast, which is the normal elections official formula. Pew and some other academics take the total number of people who are eligible to vote, whether registered or not, and divides that bigger number into the ballots cast. About 16 percent of Washington residents who could register aren't, even though it's probably never been easier to sign up. But they're part of the turnout figure.
Idaho's turnout rate is slightly lower at 60.9 percent. (Idaho officials, use the same standard as their Washington counterparts, and they put the number at 74.3 percent.) Almost a fourth -- 23 percent -- of Idahoans who could register don't, even though they can walk into a polling place on Election Day, show proof of residency, get signed up and be handed a ballot. It ranks 46th overall.
Both states have relatively few mail ballots rejected. Washington got graded down a bit for having almost a third of its military and overseas ballots unreturned, about twice the rate of Idaho. The Gem State got dinged for a high rate of rejection for the military and overseas ballots that did come back.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups released their grades for openness in government, an annual exercise that looks at how easy it is for the public to find out what states are spending their money. The PIRGs look at things like whether the state puts its budgets online, what those web sites show and whether it's easy for the average person to figure out from the information provided what's actually going on.
Washington got a B, up from a B-, for some improvements in its web site, but criticism for a lack of accessible information on aerospace tax credits. Idaho got an F, for spending data that's only searchable by agency and without information on the recipients of development subsidies. California and Alaska also got Fs. You can read the whole report (it's 62 pages long) by clicking here.