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Monday, January 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: A look at voters and turnout, by the numbers

Political geeks may surpass even baseball nerds in their love of numbers. The American political system probably aids and abets this through a complicated set of rules, districts and qualifiers on how people get elected, and a ready supply of losers, for which there are always statistics.

So the geeks might rejoice in a new page on the Washington secretary of state’s website that provides a plethora of political numbers that can be fed into a spreadsheet and sliced and diced as though they were in a Bass-o-Matic.

Up top are ballot return statistics for this year’s state primary, which are, in a word, dismal. While voters have until Tuesday to mail in ballots or deposit them in dropboxes, it would appear that the last seven months of heavy coverage of the presidential campaign has not generated excitement for marking a ballot for governor, Congress or local legislators.

As of Friday, about 1 in 8 ballots had made its way back to local elections offices. The electorate has an uphill climb in the nature of Mount Rainier to reach the 40 percent turnout predicted by the state elections office.

Other statistics on the website provide some insights into the state and local electorate. For example, some five years after a commission divided the state into 49 legislative districts of nearly identical population, those districts vary widely in the number of voters registered.

Because the census counts all people, whether eligible to vote or not, there’s always some disparity. Over time, some districts grow faster because the economy is better while others shrink with local job prospects. It’s also true that poor people are less likely to register, in part because they are more transient, too busy making ends meet or disproportionately look at the cast of characters in office and figure it doesn’t matter.

An average district has about 83,400 voters. Two legislative districts, both in Seattle, have more than 100,000 registered voters. A district in the Yakima area has just under 56,000.

But disparities also show up in the five legislative districts that are either contained within or include parts of Spokane County. The 4th District, which is primarily the Spokane Valley, is the largest, with 91,000 voters. The 9th District, which spreads across the wheat fields and rural towns of southeast Washington, has about 70,500.

Low registration numbers are not purely a rural phenomenon, however. The 3rd District, which is the urban core of the city of Spokane, from East Central to Browne’s Addition and the lower South Hill to Hillyard, is only slightly larger, at 75,000.

The website also breaks voters down by age segments. Again, there are significant differences among districts, particularly when considering the generational battle between millennials and baby boomers (sorry, Gen Xers, but nobody pays attention to you these days).

The two large Seattle districts have the most millennials, both in terms of sheer numbers and as a percentage of the total. The 43rd District – which includes Capitol Hill, Montlake, the University District and downtown – has the most with more than 43,000, or about 43 percent of its total. The 36th District – the Seattle neighborhoods of Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard and Fremont – is a strong second with about 36,000 millennial voters, or 31 percent of its total.

Spokane’s urban 3rd District also has about 31 percent of its registrations under 35, although because of the district’s lower registration numbers, that’s only about 23,000 voters.

The state average is about 26 percent, or a little over 21,000 voters. Millennials are particularly scarce in some rural districts, including northeastern Washington’s 7th District, where they are only about 20 percent, or just 18,000 voters.

Voters in those rural districts are much more likely to be 55 or older, and an Olympic Peninsula district leads for baby boomers and other seniors with 61 percent of its voters in that category. The 7th, which stretches from the north Spokane suburbs to Canada and from Idaho to the Okanogans, has slightly more than half of its voters 55 and older.

The two other districts contained in Spokane County – the 4th and 6th – are bigger than average but match almost perfectly to statewide age divisions.

While it’s not possible to say how a specific person will vote based on age, big differences in age brackets could give hints to the outcomes in this year’s elections. In a low-turnout election like the primary is likely to be, older voters trend conservative and are generally more likely to send in ballots than younger voters. The presidential election this November, however, is likely to be heavy turnout and the time in the four-year cycle that younger voters are most likely to vote. Washington’s turnout in the general election is likely to be younger, particularly in urban areas, and trend liberal.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments, at spokesman.com/ spincontrol.

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