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Sunday Spin: Will WA remain among most ‘politically engaged’?

Barely a week goes by without some study by some expert or organization announcing how well or poorly it thinks Washington does in some area of politics.

Last week it was SmartAsset, a financial services group, lauding Washington for being one of the 10 most “politically engaged” states in the nation, according to its metrics. This comes at a time when the hard data suggests that Washington voters may be thinking about breaking off that engagement, or, since the study is based on comparisons with all states, we might remain in the top 10 if the curve is lowered and most of the other 49 do even worse.

A frightening prospect indeed. . .

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. . . The SmartAsset study compared turnout for 2012 and 2010, along with the percent of the population registered in 2012 and the per capita presidential donations. Washington’s 2012 turnout was a bit underwhelming, the study concluded, considering the state had legalized marijuana and gay marriage on the ballot but the 2010 turnout was the second best in the country. The presidential donations of $2.62 per person seemed a bit low, considering President Obama and the Democrats tend to use the Seattle area as their political ATM every chance they get, but we’ve got 73 percent of the folks who are eligible registered, so we come in at No. 8. Not bad when Idaho comes in at a middling 23. But pesky Oregon is at No. 5, so no regional bragging rights.

This look back at turnout, however, seems a bit pale after the Secretary of State’s office announced the current turn-in for this year’s election stood at 9 percent on Friday, a little over a week after ballots were mailed to voters. In Spokane County, it was a marginally better 11 percent of ballots turned in. While plenty of time remains for voters to mark and mail (or mark and drop off) their ballots, historically about a fourth of ballots that are going to be cast in a general election have been turned in by the end of the first week after they’ve been sent out.

Conventional wisdom says these are the well-motivated voters who long ago made up their minds on the major races and issues on the ballot. They quickly study election information to answer any questions they might have, and send their ballots off to avoid misplacing or forgetting them.

In 2010, the last mid-term election, more than 40,000 ballots were in county elections officials hands by the end of the first full week of turn-ins. This year it’s about 31,000. Voters statewide had a more exciting race at the top of the ticket four years ago with a U.S. Senate race, but this year’s ballot features measures on guns and schools, and what better issues to get the juices flowing?

Secretary of State Kim Wyman still projects a turnout of 60 to 62 percent in this election. But secretaries of state are always optimistic about voter turnout, by tradition if not by statute.




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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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