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Thursday, October 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Voter turnout steady so far in Spokane County, despite big increase in spending

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 30, 2019

Despite the unprecedented spending in this year’s municipal races, and a ballot filled with ideological opposites, the election of 2019 is on course to have a voter turnout similar to recent city elections.

With six days until November’s general election, 16.6% of registered voters in Spokane County – or about 55,000 people – have returned their ballots. The percentage is higher within city limits, where 24,000 people have returned their ballots, or about 17.4% of registered voters.

These return statistics are similar to the percentage of voters who returned ballots six days before the elections in 2017, 2015 and 2013, according to data from the county’s elections office.

One glaring exception is the race of 2011. That was the last time the city of Spokane had a competitive mayor’s race, when David Condon successfully challenged then-Mayor Mary Verner. That year, 66,213 ballots had been returned at this point in the race, equating to about 24.9% of registered voters.

Besides the mayor’s race, the 2011 ballot also had a well-funded, controversial ballot measure closing state-run liquor stores and the second go-around for Envision Spokane’s hot-button Community Bill of Rights.

Another thing to note is the surge in registered voters over previous years, said Mike McLaughlin, manager of the elections office. Since 2017, the number of registered voters in the county has increased by more than 24,000. About half of those voters – 11,650 – live in the city of Spokane.

“We have more registered voters than we did then,” McLaughlin said. “But last time I checked, we were ahead by 1%” in this year’s ballot return totals compared to 2017.

Through Nov. 1, 2017, six days before that year’s general city election, 48,294 ballots had been returned, about 15.5%.

In 2015, 47,619 ballots had been returned at this point in the race, equating to about 16.5%. That year marked the last time Spokane had a mayor’s race, but it was generally considered an uncompetitive race between Condon and community organizer Shar Lichty.

In 2013, 54,488 ballots had been returned, about 19.2%.

One major difference between this year and all the others that came before it is the amount of spending by independent political groups, which have spent $1.04 million in this year’s city races, blowing past the previous record in 2013 of $176,000. Additionally, the ten campaigns this year have spent $1.09 million. The mayor’s race alone, between City Council President Ben Stuckart and former TV news anchor Nadine Woodward, has generated $1.17 million in total spending.

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