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Sunday Spin: Whys and why nots of voting

If you didn’t vote in last fall’s election – and let’s face it, most people didn’t – why not? And what would the state have to do to make you more likely to vote in the future?

Based on a survey of Washington voters, those who did as well as those who didn’t, we can say that the answers for not casting a ballot are many and varied. But not particularly surprising.

Washington results of the nationwide Survey of the Performance of American Elections for 2014 were sliced and diced by the Washington Secretary of State’s elections division.

About a third of Washington nonvoters said a major reason was “I was too busy.” That beat out nearly one in four who listed their main reason as “I forgot” – arguably a slightly more honest excuse, considering Washington voters have their ballots for almost three weeks so it’s hard to argue there wasn’t time somewhere in that span to mark the ballot.

Almost as many said a major factor in not voting was their ballot wasn’t mailed to them, or it arrived too late. Another 22 percent said they requested a ballot but didn’t get one. Those seem a bit hard to believe, at least in such significant numbers, because it is relatively easy to get a ballot, if one doesn’t come, by contacting the elections office – providing there’s enough time to get it mailed out before Election Day.

Even harder to believe were people who listed a major factor in not voting were things like “the polling place hours or location were inconvenient” or “the line was too long.” Because this is a national survey, the questions had some answers not geared to Washington’s system. But a Washington voter using that as an excuse hasn’t voted in years, since the state dumped poll site voting in favor of all-mail balloting. About 7 percent listed “I didn’t know where to vote” as their major factor for not voting. Clearly they aren’t opening their ballot, which would explain that you can vote by putting the completed ballot in the envelope and sticking it back out in the mailbox.

Among those who did vote, about 40 percent put the ballot in a drop box. Those who mailed it back were about equally split between taking it to the post office and having it picked up by the mail carrier at home. No easy way to tell, but the numbers probably shift from home to post office as Election Day approaches to make sure the envelope gets post marked.

About a third of voters surveyed are still not fond of all-mail voting, saying they either somewhat oppose or strongly oppose that system. Half would oppose internet voting and seven out of 10 would oppose cell phone voting. The most popular suggestion to improve voting: automatically registering a voter when he or she moves, which almost three-fourths of those surveyed support.

Another interesting tidbit in the survey was the way a voter’s trust in the system drops the farther away it gets.

Asked how confident they are that votes were counted as intended, 92 percent were either very confident or somewhat confident their own vote was counted correctly and 87 percent were confident that votes in their county were generally counted correctly. For the state, that confidence level dipped slightly to 80 percent (a few Eastern Washington residents might still harbor suspicions about King County elections from the 2004 gubernatorial race). But when asked about their confidence that votes are counted correctly nationwide, that drops to just over 50 percent. Insert your favorite joke about dead people voting in Chicago here.

Idaho voter participation hits record low

As Idaho certified its official election results on Wednesday, a troubling distinction emerged: This year’s election was the first time ever that less than 40 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population cast ballots in a general election. “Frankly, it was disappointing,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “We broke through a barrier that we didn’t want to break through.”

The previous low – 40.21 percent of the voting age population – came in the last mid-term election in 2010, as Idaho has continued to see declining voter participation, a trend that’s been steady since 1980.

Idaho’s not alone – Ysursa said the national average turnout this year, in percent of voting-age population, was 37 percent. “It’s abysmal,” he said, “and we need to turn it around.”

Final turnout figures showed that 56.1 percent of Idaho’s registered voters participated in the election. The number of voters registered was roughly equal to that of the last mid-term election in 2010, but there were 12,441 fewer ballots cast. Just 37.59 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population voted in the Nov. 4 election. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Plenty of money for general election, not so many votes

OLYMPIA – With control of the state Senate in the balance, legislative candidates could pull in record amounts of money. Some ballot measure campaigns also are spending heavily as the election deadline approaches.

Their fates may be decided by a relatively small number of voters. Early turnout is light throughout the state, and less than half of Spokane County’s eligible voters are expected to return their ballots. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.


Sunday Spin: What will primary turnout be?

OLYMPIA – With Washington’s primary a mere 10 days away, the big question – after who’ll survive and go to the general election, of course – is how many voters will bother to cast ballots.

It’s a common question around the country, as a recent study shows primary turnout is down in most states from 2010, the last mid-term primaries.

A recent report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate says turnout is down even in states that took steps to make it easier to vote by offering such things as election day registration or early voting. This must confound voting-reform advocates who believe the only thing needed to do to promote more frequent and fervent voting is to make it easier, as if voters are being deterred from casting a ballot because they must turn over their first-born child to register and walk two miles in the snow, uphill both ways, to the polling place on election day. . . 

1 in 5 Spokane ballots in

About one of every five Spokane voters has returned a ballot for Tuesday's election.

The Spokane County Elections Office said it has slightly more than 59,000 ballots as of this morning's count, both from mail delivery and collections at the drop boxes around the county. That's about 21 percent of the more than 282,000 mailed out last month.

 In the City of Spokane, the contested races in council districts 2 and 3 are running slightly ahead of that average, while the District 1, where there's  no contested council race, is not surprisingly running behind average.

Many of the smaller towns are running around the county are running significantly ahead of the county's average turn-in rate. The City of Spokane Valley is a bit behind, at 18.6 percent.

Ballots that are mailed in must be postmarked by Tuesday. They can also be deposited in drop boxes at public libraries and other key locations around the county before 8 p.m. Tuesday. A list of drop box locations can be found inside the blog.



WA Lege Day 16: Stamping out the vote?

OLYMPIA — College students want to vote, student lobbyists told legislators today, they really do.But some don't because they just don't have a stamp to put on their mail-in envelope.

And at least one University of Washington student said he didn't even know where to get a stamp

"I don't know where the local post office is," Lucas Barash-David told the House Government Operations Committee, which was discussing a bill that would require state and local governments to pay the costs of postage for returning mail-in ballots.

David was among lobbyists for student organizations supporting prepaid envelopes for returning ballots. Requiring them to come up with a stamp was a barrier akin to a poll tax, Gabriel Bowman of University of Washington-Tacoma, said. Well, maybe a smaller barrier than a poll tax, Bowman added, but "we don't think there should be any barriers."

David, who lobbies for the UW students' association, went even further. "We don't use stamps." They don't send letters, they call, text or send e-mails.

All counties have drop boxes, where ballots can be deposited without stamps, but not all of them are on or near campuses, student representatives said. They' might not know where they are; they might be too busy to make the detour to the drop box on their commute to or from campus.

Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, said he found it hard to believe college students couldn't quickly find the location of the nearest drop box. "Students do research on other things out there," Buys said, going on the Internet and using Google maps to find the location of the closest coffee house or bar.

The Washington Secretary of State's office does have a page that lists all the drop boxes in the state, and a partnership with Google maps  and Microsoft to make those boxes easy to find.

Registration up but ballots coming in slower

Spokane County has record voter registration this year, but it may not be on track to have a record turnout.

Or "turn-in" if you prefer the more accurate description of how Washington states.

A comparison of the rate of ballot returns up to today shows Spokane is significantly behind the rate in 2008. It is, however, ahead of the rates in the last two non-presidential years with other partisan races, 2006 and 2010.

State elections officials, who are expecting this year to fall behind the 2008 record for ballots cast, now say they may have to revise their forecast upwards. Turn-in statistics in some of the state's other large counties have Washington elections officials are in line with four years ago. 

Today is significant in Spokane County for two reasons. One, it's a week before the deadline for mailing or depositing ballots in drop boxes. The second is that this is the day when Spokane County turn-in figures show the ballots placed in drop boxes over last weekend, so there's usually a significant bump from Monday.

Right now, ballot turn-in stands at 31.1 percent, or 88,326 of the county's 282,139 registered voters ballots. Four years ago it was 36.3 percent, or 95,369 of the county's 258,162 registered voters. In other words, it's off by about 7,000 ballots.

County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin doesn't think this is necessarily a sign that voters are less interested in this year's presidential election.

"They're voting later," McLaughlin said. "I think the initiatives are slowing some people down."

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Spokane’s 3rd Lege District among lowest for turnout

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, along with being among the state's poorest, is among the state's lightest voting.

The state Elections Office released voter turnout for the state's 49 legislative districts this morning, and they show a wide range of ballots cast, voter registration and turnout (ballots cast divided by voters registered) across the state.

Spokane's 3rd District was fourth from the bottom as far as ballots cast and turnout. Final tallies show that 35,835 voters, or 63.3 percent of those registered in the district, cast a ballot.

Other legislative districts that are completely or partly in Spokane County did significantly better:

The 6th District was fourth from the top, with 64,673 ballots, or a 74.5 percent turnout of its 86,796 voters.

The Valley's 4th District was 17th, with 58,461 ballots or a 72.4 percent turnout.

Northeast Washington's 7th District was 24th, with 55,411 ballots and a 74.2 percent turnout.

Southeast Washington's 9th District 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 considerably more registered voters than either of the two rural districts.)

GOP won the right precincts

Compare the map of voters above with the maps below of the way votes stacked up in key races.

Statistics may be for losers, as Scotty Bowman once said. But losers who don’t pay attention to statistics may be destined to keep losing.
So it might be wise for Spokane County Democrats to consider statistics from last month’s election that show they lost the courthouse essentially because they did poorly in areas that voted well.
Well, duh, you might say. People generally lose by not getting enough votes. But it’s the way most Democratic candidates didn’t get enough votes that should have them rethinking their strategies and suggest Republicans could settle comfortably into the “castle” on the north side of the Spokane River as well as expect to hold most of the county’s legislative seats and Eastern Washington’s congressional seat.

Trend shows fewer eligible Idahoans voting

The “Interstices” blog crunched some numbers and found that the Nov. 2 election marked the lowest turnout as a percentage of Idaho’s voting age population in a gubernatorial election in the past 50 years.  That measure, as opposed to the percentage of registered voters who cast ballots, has long been declining, but in the last three gubernatorial elections was relatively stable. This time, Interstices found, fewer than 40 percent of eligible voters participated, down from more than 65 percent back in 1962. You can read the full post here, and more here.

Today’s voter turn-in: 10,745

Spokane County Elections Office reported collecting 10,745 ballots this morning, bringing the total to 87,854 for the general election. Turn-in stands at 33.65 percent countywide, although a bit  lower in the city of Spokane and significantly lower in the 3rd Legislative District, a Democratic stronghold.

The overall total means turn-in is running slightly stronger in this second week of voting than in 2006 mid-term election, although nowhere near the levels of the presidential election year in 2008.

Here’s a numbers geek factoid: In both of those years, half the folks who were going to vote had turned in or mailed their ballots by the Thursday before election day. Projecting that trend onto this year (admittedly a somewhat shaky hypothesis) Spokane County would be on track for a turnout of about 67 percent.

Ballot stats: Turn-in jumps on Tuesday

Here’s something for numbers geeks and political wonks to debate in discussing whether voter turnout (or turn-in) in Spokane County may be trending up. Tuesday’s ballot count is the highest so far in this election.

As mentioned last week, the Tuesday after ballots go out is traditionally the heaviest day for ballots arriving in the county Elections Office until Election Day. That trend holds pretty steady in elections through 2006, and the theory is that voters who know who they want to cast a ballot for (or against) mark ‘em and mail ‘em right away. The rest of us delay for a number of reasons: We want to study the voters guide to figure out the difference between the two “get the state out of the liquor business” initiatives; we can’t decide whether to write-in a drinking buddy’s name for an uncontested race; we’re waiting to see which Murray v. Rossi ad ticks us off most.

This year, however, today’s count of 15,707 ballots was higher than last Tuesday’s count of 12,104.

While that didn’t happen in 2006, the last time there was a mid-term election, Elections Supervisor Mike McLaughlin did note there was a surge four years ago in the combined ballots from the first Monday and Tuesday (20,873)  compared to the combined ballots of the second Monday and Tuesday (23,876). (The first two days of the week can be significant because voters may be doing their research on the weekends and mailing or dropping off ballots right after that. Tuesday figures include the ballots picked up at drop boxes on Monday.)

This year the surge is bigger, up from 18,259 ballots on Monday and Tuesday last week to 25,575 this week.

This could be a result of both parties urging their members to mark their ballots and send them in as soon as possible. Or it may be a move by exhausted voters to send off a ballot so they will be spared more robocalls and mailers targeted at slackers who haven’t yet voted. (The campaigns get lists, you know.)

Raw numbers are one thing, percentages are something different, however. The total number of ballots received at this point in the two elections is within a few hundred. But there are about 25,000 more voters now, thanks in part to the big voter registration drives of 2008.

At this point in the 2006 election, 28.4 percent of the voters had cast ballots; final turnout was 68 percent. Thus far in 2010, 25.4 percent of the voters have cast ballots, and extrapolating a similar trend would have turnout in the range of about 61 percent.

Courting the Youth Vote? Let’s get real

After listening to decades of hype about young voters, I have a request.

Don’t bug me about Rock the Vote, unless it’s something akin to “Rock Around the Clock” the Vote. You got a program for Swing the Vote or Jitterbug the Vote or even Charleston the Vote, I’ll listen. They’re the ones who vote.

Statistics for the Aug. 17 primary released last week by the secretary of state’s office suggest that, to paraphrase Sam Goldwyn (a guy young voters probably have never heard of), voters under 35 stayed away in droves….

Where’s my ballot?

The Spokane County Elections Office has an on-line tracking system that allows you to know where your ballot is in the processing system.

You can reach it by clicking here and filling in the appropriate information.

The office also reports that 27.6 percent of the ballots have been received as of this morning. So for most people, the answer to the question in the headline is “Still around the house, somewhere.”

What’s up in northeast Spokane? Not turnout

Northeast Spokane has an electoral problem that needs to be examined after the 2010 Census is complete. The problem isn’t who gets elected, but how few people do the electing.

Results from this year’s general election follow a pattern evident in council elections since districts were drawn earlier this decade, and in legislative elections for decades before that. Northeast Spokane’s Council District 1, which shares many of the same precincts and voters and the state’s 3rd Legislative District, has significantly fewer voters than the neighboring districts. And the voters it has are less likely to cast ballots than other regions of the city and county.

That was particularly true this year. Although District 1 had a fairly contentious council race between Amber Waldref and Mike Fagan, the district – which is roughly everything north of I-90 and east of Division Street – had eight of the city’s 10 lowest turnout precincts, 17 of the bottom 20. District 1 also has about three registered voters for every four in the other two districts.

While this means that an individual District 1 voter has more impact on picking his or her councilmember, it also means that when grouped together with other voters on citywide issues, the area’s voters as a group have less impact than some in Indian Trails or the South Hill where registration and turnout is much heavier.

About half the voters will

Vote, that is.

Or at least that’s Secretary of State Sam Reed’s projection, released today.

Reed projects turnout at 51 percent, down markedly from about 85 percent last  year. Ah, for the halcyon days of ‘08. Obama vs. McCain. A gaffe-watch on Joe Biden. A dissection of every word Sarah Palin uttered. Gregoire v. Rossi, part deux.

Even with two statewide initiatives — one on government spending and another on domestic partnership rights — there just arent as many vote grabbers this year.

If he’s right, 2009 will be about average for an off-year, mostly local election, Reed said.