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Spin Control: We’re No. 5! Not a great chant, but respectable

If you voted in last year’s general election, you helped make Washington No. 5 in a recent list of the turnout for all 50 states.

Fifth place doesn’t qualify Washington for a medal, so don’t dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back. But a turnout of 61.9%, based on the calculations of the website 24/7 Wall St, was good enough to put Washington within shouting distance of the top spot, which went to Maine with 65.6%.

Wait a minute, a couple of careful readers might say. Didn’t the Washington secretary of state’s official count last November say our turnout was 71.3%, which is what’s posted on the state elections website. So shouldn’t we be grabbing the gold medal?

Yes to the first question; no to the second. The secretary of state uses one formula for calculating turnout, which is the number of ballots cast divided by the number of registered voters. 24/7, like many others, divides the number of ballots cast by the number of state residents who are eligible to vote, whether they are registered or not.

The first is a good reflection of the interest among people who at some point in their life were politically engaged enough to register. The second may be a fairer way to compare 50 states with varying rules and deadlines for signing people up.

One could argue that in states like Washington – which make it very easy to register, to the point that starting this year a person can register and vote on Election Day – those who don’t sign up aren’t ever going to vote so the state should not be docked for their nonparticipation.

But dividing by all eligible residents, rather than registration, can highlight the problems in states that make signing up difficult and try to purge the rolls of certain voters for political reasons.

The website listed other data for each state, like turnout in the 2016 presidential election, whether the state voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, the percentage of voters over 65, and the poverty rate. None of them seem to be a determining factor in the top 10.

Although all 10 were likely to have higher than average turnout in 2016, they were pretty evenly split between Trump and Clinton, on having a higher or lower percentage of senior citizens and a wide variation in the poverty rate.

The top five did have one thing in common, but it was geographic, not demographic: Maine, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington are all on the northern tier of the United States. But that wasn’t a controlling factor, either, because Idaho was at No. 47 on the list with turnout of 47.9%

Meanwhile, in the 2019 primary

The turnout for the primary seems unlikely to hit 30% statewide. Spokane County is a bit better at 34%, and the city of Spokane, which had some competitive municipal races, edged above 36%.

On the web

Most people know there’s plenty of money in politics, and while many would argue there’s too much, getting a handle on how much can be difficult.

The National Institute on Money in Politics is trying to help with a new website that breaks down more than $10.4 billion in contributions nationally from more than 14 million donors by state, by the types of races within that state, and by the sources of that cash.

Pausing a cursor over the map of Washington will show that more than $129 million in contributions were given to candidates in the 2017-18 election cycle. Clicking on the map will take you to charts and graphs for how much was raised by challengers versus incumbents, by Democrats versus Republicans or by men versus women.

It also lists the top 10 individual donors and corporate or political action donors. At the top of the individual list is venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who is listed as giving out $1.4 million over the years, primarily to Democrats. At the top of the other list is the Washington Leadership Council, a pro-business organization, listed as giving out $28.9 million over the years, mostly to Republicans.

Much of the information for Washington is available on the Public Disclosure Commission website, although the institute provides a different way to visualize and segregate it, and allows for quick comparisons with other states.