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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

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.

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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