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Washington Voters Give Dole Nod Spokane County May Have Set Record For No-Shows In Presidential Primary

Suppose they gave a primary and nobody came.

It wasn’t quite that bad Tuesday in the Washington state presidential primary. But almost.

Most counties reported a dearth of voters at the polls, and Spokane County may have set a record for low turnout, possibly as low as 9 percent.

That’s one voter in 11 going to the polls or mailing in an absentee ballot.

“It’s called ‘apathy’ with a capital A,” said county Elections Supervisor Tom Wilbur.

Faced with a Republican presidential race that was decided last week, a no-contest Democratic presidential race and an independent ballot that both parties will scorn, voters stayed away in droves.

For about $3 million - which is what the state will spend on its second ever presidential primary - the candidates, political analysts and the news media know the following:

Bob Dole, who already is the GOP nominee, is the choice of a majority of the state’s Republicans. With about 62 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, the Senate majority leader from Kansas was pulling in almost two-thirds of the Republican ballots.

“We’re feeling great,” said state Dole coordinator Lance Henderson. “This is an overwhelming victory for Bob Dole.”

Pat Buchanan, who vows not to quit the race regardless of the number of victories Dole racks up, has a loyal core of support. About 20 percent of Republican voters statewide, and nearly 30 percent in Spokane County where Buchanan campaigned Monday, punched ballots for the former television commentator.

“If it holds like this, we did absolutely awesome,” said Bruce Hawkins, a Buchanan coordinator. “Anything over 10 percent and we get a cut of the delegates.”

Based on projections by the Associated Press, Dole will get 12 of the GOP convention delegates awarded from the party primary ballots. Buchanan will get four and publisher Steve Forbes, who dropped out of the race two weeks ago, will get two.

Bill Clinton has an early edge on Dole in Washington state. Clinton coasted past perennial challenger Lyndon LaRouche in the Democratic primary with percentages that would make a Banana Republic dictator blush. Clinton collected about half the votes from unaffiliated ballots, handily defeating Dole.

Washington voters, who don’t register by party, would rather cast a ballot that means almost nothing than ask for a ballot that says Democrat or Republican at the top.

More people cast unaffiliated ballots - which both parties will ignore because of rules which govern their presidential nomination party - than cast party ballots.

Thirteen hours is a long day when one is a poll worker in the state presidential primary.

“It was pathetic,” said Dolores Cameron, a poll worker at Finch Elementary School in a precinct that sometimes sees 70 percent of its 561 voters show up for general elections. Tuesday, there were 40.

That was actually a pretty good number, compared to some precincts. Carol Amann, a poll worker at Shadle Park Presbyterian Church, said 14 of the precinct’s 503 voters showed up.

Election workers read. They crocheted baby blankets and knitted afghans. They addressed wedding invitations.

They answered questions about what they were doing.

“People were saying all day they hadn’t heard anything about (the primary),” said Marie McGreevy, a poll worker at Roosevelt Elementary School. “We had teachers asking ‘What are we voting for?’

“We’ve never seen anything so bad,” said McGreevy, who had a half-finished copy of “Adam Bede” by George Eliot in front of her.

“It’s a good day for reading.”

Some poll workers wondered about the expense, which elections official Wilbur estimated would be about $225,000, the going cost for a countywide vote.

The turnout was almost certain to be lower than 11 percent, the old record for a countywide election, he said. That record was set in 1992, at the previous state presidential primary.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Graphic: Washington primary results