November 3, 2008 in City

Haven’t voted? Time to cram

Undecided voters have plenty of options for studying up on ballot issues, candidates
By The Spokesman-Review
 
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

Spokane County election worker Gary Marcus watches as a new automated sorting machine processes a batch of ballots Friday. Election workers expect to have more than half of the ballots counted today.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

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Tick. Tick. Tick. Undecided voters are running out of time to decide on a wide array of candidates and issues. They have to become “decideds” by Tuesday evening.

Some of their fellow voters might wonder, “What more do you need?” The presidential race has been going on for more than a year. Washington’s governor’s race features the same candidates as four years ago. Absentee voters in Idaho have been casting ballots for about three weeks. In Washington state, voters started marking their ballots and mailing them in two weeks ago.

But even in the nation’s most high-profile race, a national poll late last week for the Associated Press showed one voter in seven could still change his or her vote for president before Election Day.

Del Ali of Research 2000, who conducts polls around the country and has polled in Washington and Idaho for The Spokesman-Review for more than a decade, said the number of completely undecided voters in the presidential race is much smaller – no more than 4 percent in some battleground states and lower in most others. It doesn’t seem to be any higher than in 2000 or 2004, he said.

The percentage is probably in single digits in high-profile races, such as Washington’s gubernatorial race. But it starts to climb for other candidates or issues on the ballot.

“Especially this race, this year. Everything is Obama-McCain,” Ali said. “The lower the name recognition, the higher the undecideds.”

So Washington voters shouldn’t feel bad if they are trying to figure out a vote for state treasurer or county commissioner. Idaho voters might be forgiven if they don’t recognize the name of one party’s candidate for House position A and the other party’s for Position B. The ballot is long, but the good news is, there’s probably more information available than ever.

“It’s called, ‘They have a life,’ ” said Cathy Allen, a campaign consultant and political commentator for Seattle’s KING-TV. “It’s not so much that they’re undecided; it’s just that they haven’t focused.”

The time to focus will occur sometime before 8 p.m. Tuesday, when Washington ballots must be postmarked or placed in drop-off boxes and polling places in Idaho close.

Before then, some voters will sit down with a voters’ guide, candidate literature and any other political material they’ve saved from the last few months, Allen said. How best to focus?

In Washington, households with a registered voter should have received a Voter’s Pamphlet with information on the issues and candidates on the local ballot. It probably arrived more than a month ago.

Copies are available at most public libraries, at county elections offices and online at www.secstate.wa.gov.

Spokane County also has a voter’s guide on its Web site at wei.secstate.wa.gov/ spokane/Pages/Online VotersGuide.aspx.

Idaho only publishes a voter’s guide in years with statewide ballot measures. There’s no printed guide this year, but Kootenai County Elections Manager Deedie Beard said her office Web site, www.kcgov.us/elections/ provides links to candidates’ Web sites. So does the Idaho secretary of state, at www.idsos.state.id.us/ elect/eleindex.htm.

For those who want more than just the candidates’ statements about themselves, other organizations offer assistance. Project Vote Smart tracks legislative records of federal and state elected officials and asks them to fill out issue surveys. While the survey response rates are uneven from state to state, the group posts plenty of candidate information at www.votesmart.org. It also has a toll-free number, (888) Vote-Smart.

The Spokesman-Review posts its election coverage and candidate profiles at spokesmanreview.com/ elections/2008.

In the end, undecideds either develop a comfort level with their choices or skip the races where they can’t, Ali said. Most will probably vote “no” on ballot initiatives they don’t know enough about, because voting to keep the status quo is safer than voting for an unknown change.

They may be a bit like college freshman cramming for a midterm exam, skimming pages and pages of information and trying to retain it, Ali said. “In the end, they’ll say ‘I did the best that I could.’ ”

Jim Camden can be reached at (509) 459-5461 or jimc@ spokesman.com.


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