On election night, the question most likely to be asked and least likely to be answered accurately is: What's turnout like?
Because of Washington’s vote-by-mail system that counts ballots for some two weeks after the election, no one knew for sure on Tuesday night. The best guess in Spokane County was thatturnout would be low, but probably not historically so. Likely higher than the overall state average, which wasn’t going to hit the overly optimistic prognostication by Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
But then, elections officials are optimistic by nature, and almost always guesstimate high.
By Thursday evening all ballots from drop boxes had been counted and most ballots dropped in the mail had been received. Spokane County turnout was hovering around 40 percent, and likely to go up a couple more points by the time the election was certified.
That made it possible to map turnout patterns on the Spin Control blog, which admittedly went a bit crazy on election maps during the week. Using precinct data from the county Elections Office, the turnout map shows some wide variations in that 40 percent average from precinct to precinct. Such variations aren’t unusual, but they can be helpful for explaining Tuesday’s results and might be instructive for future campaigns.
The heaviest turnout percentages were in the county's southeast corner, Spokane's South Hill and northwest corner and Liberty Lake. Its lightest voting precincts were on the West Plains, in Airway Heights, Fairchild Air Force Base and Cheney. But large portions of northeast Spokane and the Spokane Valley were nothing to brag about, either.
While the percentages might change a bit in the final tabulation, the relative strengths of the turnout probably won't.
But turnout isn't the only thing that matters in elections. It's a percentage of the votes cast, but not all precincts are created equal. Some have more than 1,000 registered voters, and others only a handful.
Flipping back and forth on the maps reveals that some of the southeast county precincts with high turnout also have relatively low numbers of registered voters, while some of the Spokane city and Liberty Lake precincts have high turnout and are packed with voters.
Successful campaigns for candidates or ballot issues are likely to apply a political version of the Willie Sutton rule. When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton is alleged to have said “because that’s where the money is.” (He denied he ever said that, but regardless, the rule is still good.)
For a candidate, the hot spots are precincts that are green in both maps.
For a closer look at the turnout and registration numbers, pull up the PDF documents and enlarge them.