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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

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."

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State elections officials have been forecasting a drop-off of turnout this year, but Katie Blinn, state co-director of elections, said today they may revise their estimates upwards.

"We thought four years ago was a high water mark," Blinn said, because of interest by both parties picking a nominee in the primaries, followed by the first African-American candidate.

But ballot statistics from the state's largest counties may force them to revise their estimates upwards. As of Monday, Pierce, King and Snohomish counties were all "on par" with 2008, Blinn said. Some of those counties include weekend drop box totals, she added.

Blinn isn't sure if the wide array of ballot measures is delaying some voters. But she does think that two advisory measures are causing the most confusion: "It's about the only thing we're getting calls on, in terms of the content of the ballot." 

Advisory Vote 1 involves the Legislature's decision to end a tax break for large banks on mortgage interest, and Vote 2 involves the lowering and extension of a tax on petroleum products. A 2007 initiative requires the votes, but it doesn't allow the state voters guide to provide much information, or statements for and against the laws. The Legislature is not bound by the results.

The statewide ballot also contains measures on legalized marijuana, same sex marriage, charter schools, super-majorities for taxes, changes to the state's debt limit and how Washington State University and the University of Washington can invest some money. The measures are the first things on the ballot, and Blinn said there may be some voter fatigue that will cause some to "just give up and skip to the presidential election."

Presidential races drive voter interest, and Spokane County has set records for voter registration and ballots cast in most presidential years since 1972, when the voting age was lowered to 18. In recent years, Washington has made it increasingly easier to vote, now allowing online registration up to one month before an election, and in person registration up to eight days before for most people. The final registration figures are still being tallied, but stood at 282,139 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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