OLYMPIA – New numbers from the Washington secretary of state’s office confirm what political experts in Spokane have long believed: Central Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District, one of the state’s poorest, also is one of its lightest-voting.
The state Elections Office released voting data from the November election for the state’s 49 legislative districts Wednesday, and they show a wide range across the state for ballots cast, voter registration and turnout, which is the number of ballots cast divided by registration.
Spokane’s 3rd District – from Francis Avenue to the lower South Hill and from Havana Street to the city’s West Side – was fourth from the bottom as far as ballots cast and turnout.
Final tallies show that 35,835 voters, or 63.3 percent of the voters in the 3rd District, cast a ballot. The district had 56,568 voters on the rolls for the election, the fifth-fewest in the state.
Other legislative districts that are completely or partly in Spokane County did significantly better.
• The 6th District – which curves around the north, west and south boundaries of the 3rd, and takes in parts of Whitworth, the West Plains, the South Hill and Moran Prairie – was the fourth-highest as far as ballots cast. It reported 64,673 ballots, for a 74.5 percent turnout of its 86,796 voters.
• The 4th District – which covers most of the Valley and includes Green Bluff, Mount Spokane and areas to Spokane County’s northern boundary – was 17th, with 58,461 ballots or a 72.4 percent turnout.
• Northeast Washington’s 7th District – Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry and Lincoln counties as well as the Deer Park and upper West Plains areas of Spokane County – was 24th, with 55,411 ballots and a 74.2 percent turnout.
• Southeast Washington’s 9th District – Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield and Whitman counties, as well as the southern third of Spokane County – was 28th, with 51,223 ballots and a 73.1 percent turnout. (The turnout was slightly smaller in the 4th, even though the number of ballots is larger, because the 4th has more registered voters than either of the two rural districts.)
The 3rd District traditionally has lower voter registration and turnout because of demographic differences. It has one of the highest rates of poverty and participation in public assistance programs, as well as more rental housing and a more transient population.
One other explanation for the difference in voter participation could be the so-called enthusiasm gap for Democratic voters, two years after they turned out in large numbers to elect Barack Obama and give Democrats strong majorities in Congress. The numbers bolster that, to a point.
Among the 10 districts with the smallest ballot totals, seven had solidly Democratic delegations and an eighth elected two Democrats and one Republican. Only two of the 10 lowest-voting districts had solidly Republican delegations.
Among the 10 districts with the largest ballot totals, however, things were more split. Five went Republican all the way, three went Democratic all the way, and the other two split their delegations with two Democrats and one Republican.
The 3rd is a Democratic stronghold that has only sent two Republicans to the Legislature in the last 60 years. Voters in the 6th ousted two Democrats, and the other three in Spokane County have had Republicans in both the state Senate and House since at least the early 1990s.