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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Low voter turnout expected in Washington, Idaho, despite high stakes

Connie Klien, center, Marsha Plewman, left, and Bev Hannibal open and check ballots Thursday at the Spokane County Elections Office. (Dan Pelle)
Connie Klien, center, Marsha Plewman, left, and Bev Hannibal open and check ballots Thursday at the Spokane County Elections Office. (Dan Pelle)

Control of the U.S. Senate may be the chief concern of national political experts Tuesday, but Washington voters won’t play any part in that decision. Because of that, many may skip voting entirely.

State voters will decide issues closer to home on guns and schools, which party controls the state Senate, who runs the counties or occupies the court benches. Spokane voters will also decide whether to spend more tax money on streets and parks.

The expectations for turnout aren’t much higher in Idaho despite high-profile races for governor, U.S. senator and representative, and a host of statewide and county races.

Washington voters need to return their ballots by 8 p.m. Tuesday. Based on current figures and historic trends, almost half of them won’t. As of Friday, only about one voter in five had returned ballots to county elections offices around the state.

Idaho voters still go to the polls unless they vote absentee. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Washington

Elections officials in Washington continue to hope for a late surge in voting because the ballot contains some hot-button issues, including competing statewide initiatives on gun control. I-594 would extend background checks currently required by the federal government for purchases at registered gun dealers to nearly all private purchases. I-591 would prevent the state from changing background check requirements unless there’s a new federal standard.

At the top of the ballot is I-1351, which would require the Legislature to spend money to reduce class sizes from kindergarten through high school in public schools throughout the state, a measure supporters say is a key to improving education and opponents label a “budget buster.”

Without a U.S. Senate race, the top elective office on the ballot is for the U.S. House of Representatives. In Eastern Washington, that’s a contest between Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a five-term Republican, and Democrat Joe Pakootas, the chief executive officer of the Colville Tribal Federal Corp.

A half dozen state Senate races around Washington will determine whether Republicans or Democrats run that chamber. Two Democrats joined all 24 Republicans for a coalition that held control during this year’s legislative session. Two Spokane legislative districts have Senate seats on this year’s ballot, but only the 6th District race between incumbent Republican Mike Baumgartner and Democratic challenger Rich Cowan could affect control. In the 7th District, incumbent Brian Dansel and challenger Tony Booth are both Republicans, so the GOP will hold the seat.

Although Democrats are expected to keep control of the state House, Spokane Valley has some hotly contested races with Bob McCaslin and Diana Wilhite running for an open seat and incumbent Matt Shea facing a challenge from Josh Arritola. All four are Republicans.

Spokane County voters also will select one county commissioner and the rest of the elected executives. Republican Al French, a one-term incumbent commissioner, faces a challenge from Democrat Mary Lou Johnson, and the assessor, auditor, clerk, sheriff, prosecutor and treasurer are also on the ballot.

The city of Spokane has two property tax proposals for voters. It wants to restructure debt from street bonds approved in 2004, keeping the levy of 57 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for another 20 years. It also wants voters to approve a new $63 million bond issue, $60 million of which would go to renovate and update Riverfront Park. The current park levy is 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, but part of that is set to expire next year.

Idaho

Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Jim Risch faces first-time candidate Nels Mitchell, a Boise Democrat. Polls have put Risch far ahead of his opponent, an attorney.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador is seeking a third term in the House. His opponent is longtime state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. Labrador is a tea party favorite who was unopposed in the GOP primary this year; Ringo has long been one of the most liberal members of the Idaho House.

In the race for governor, two-term Republican Gov. Butch Otter is trying for a third consecutive term, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in Idaho since 1962. In debates, his Democratic opponent, A.J. Balukoff, has hit hard on issues such as Otter’s record on school funding and the economy. John Bujak, an Eagle, Idaho, attorney, is running as a libertarian.

One statewide race that has drawn considerable attention is for superintendent of public instruction. Democrat Jana Jones narrowly lost to Tom Luna in 2006. This time her opponent, Republican Sherri Ybarra, has made a number of missteps, including erroneous claims to have been Idaho’s “Educator of the Year” as well as to have earned a doctorate degree in education.

In Kootenai County, voters will choose two new members of the three-person board of commissioners. The District 1 race is between Republican Marc Eberlein and Democrat Bruce Noble. In District 2, Jerry Shriner, a Democrat, faces Republican David Stewart. Races for county assessor, clerk and treasurer also are on the ballot.

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