December 1, 2013 in City

Spin Control: Low voter turnout defies general thinking

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Conventional wisdom for campaign seasons like the one just passed says local elections help boost turnout for the statewide contests.

Voting for people you might know, or at least have a chance to bump into and harangue in line at Rosauers or Starbucks – and who arguably have a bigger impact on your daily life – usually trumps issues or offices that are further removed, politically as well as geographically.

A look at Spokane County’s turnout for the 2013 general election shows that wasn’t true. At best, local elections had no effect; at worst, they were a bit of a drag.

Spokane, Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Airway Heights and Cheney all had municipal elections. All had a majority of their precincts that came in at, or below, the county’s average turnout of 43.14 percent.

An exception can be noted for Spokane’s South Council District, where most precincts are above the average turnout, and some markedly above. But those are also precincts that always generate high turnout.

The suburbs – where voters may have had marginally contested school board or fire district races to decide but no mayors or council members – generally turned out better than the cities. In some cases, much better.

Another exception is worth noting: Among the areas with some of the lowest turnout are the West Plains precincts in and around Airway Heights and Fairchild Air Force Base, which is also the area that contained the land addressed in Spokane County’s Proposition 1. Folks living beyond the runway and Fairchild’s east fence, as well as those in Airway Heights, also “stayed away in droves” as the saying goes.

If the proposal to sell bonds and buy land near Fairchild’s landing zone was critical to the base’s well-being, apparently that wasn’t made crystal clear to residents of the base, who had a county-low turnout of just under 10 percent.

While many residents of the base are registered elsewhere, 888 voters are registered at Fairchild; only 88 bothered to mark a ballot and send it in. To their credit, all 88 were able to pick between yes or no on Prop. 1, making it the only precinct in the county where no voter left that measure blank.

Spokane’s Northeast Council District was also below average. One could argue that’s because there was no real council race there. Incumbent Amber Waldref was on the ballot by herself.

But turnout is always low, sometimes abysmally so, in Hillyard, Nevada-Lidgerwood and the precincts between east of Division Street, so a good race might not have made any difference.

Turnout was high in rural areas, perhaps because farmers weren’t happy with Initiative 522, which required labeling of genetically modified food products. It’s true they don’t grow many genetically modified crops out there, but farm groups had come out against it and opponents had tailored some of their gazillion-dollar campaign to the farm vote.

All of this is speculation that might take some political scientist’s doctoral dissertation to prove. But likely what the turnout map best shows is evidence of a continuing gulf in participation between city precincts where incomes are lower and suburban precincts where the incomes are higher. Spokane County has its share of low-income residents. Some people might say more than its share – what they don’t share in is shaping their government.

The map can be found on the blog at www.spokesman.com/spincontrol.

GOP candidates on display

Spokane County Republican precinct officers in the 4th Legislative District have to pick a replacement for Rep. Larry Crouse, who is retiring this month with a year left on his term. Five would-be legislators are eager for the job, but only three can be on the list that will be sent to county commissioners for the final selection.

The county party, along with several local GOP groups such as the Republican Liberty Caucus and Northwest Grassroots, is sponsoring a forum with all five at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Spokane Events and Catering, 10514 E. Sprague Ave. in Spokane Valley. KXLY’s Rick Rydell has agreed to referee, uh, moderate.

Organizer John Christina said the forum is open to the public, not just precinct officers. Good idea considering the ones who don’t get the appointment are likely to run next fall when the seat is up for election.

Contact Jim Camden at jimc@spokesman.com or (509) 879-7461.

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