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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Some takeaways and warning signs from final primary results

Outside the White House.  (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
By Jim Camden For The Spokesman-Review

Although the winners for the Washington presidential primary were known minutes after the 8 p.m. deadline – if there was any doubt before then – that doesn’t mean there is nothing to learn from the final results, which are just finalized on Friday.

The most interesting takeaway for political geeks, and possibly the most troubling for the presidential campaigns, was that while the total number of ballots cast was way down from four years ago, the number of people who did not vote for the winners was significantly higher.

Put another way, the number of people who bothered to vote was down. The percentage of people who didn’t vote for the expected nominees was up.

Way up.

About half of the state’s voters cast a presidential primary ballot in 2020. Because the Democrats had a crowded race and Donald Trump was running unopposed for re-election, more than two-thirds of the ballots cast, some 1.5 million, were marked for Democrats.

Shortly after Washington’s 2020 presidential primary ballots were mailed to voters in late February, some Democratic candidates on the ballot started dropping out. Four contenders – Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren – called it quits in the week before the voting deadline but still got significant votes along with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

With so many options, fewer than 8% of the Democratic votes in the 2020 were cast for write-ins, uncommitted delegates or candidates who were out of the race before most ballots were marked. This year, that percentage was about double. Nearly 10% of the ballots were marked for uncommitted and more than 6% are marked for relative unknowns Dean Phillips or Marianne Williamson, or for write-ins.

On the Republican side, with more choices in the 2024 primary, the number of GOP primary ballots was up by nearly 100,000 over 2020. But about a fourth of those statewide were marked for GOP candidates other than Trump, who ran unopposed four years earlier. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who dropped out the week before the deadline for Washington ballots, got more than 151,000 votes, and collected more than 10% of the GOP vote in all but one of the state’s 39 counties, hitting 18% on the Republican ballots in Spokane County and 29% in King County.

When compared to the 2020 general election, there are caution lights flashing bright yellow from this year’s primary for both presidential campaigns. Washington has a relatively low bar for third-party candidates to qualify for the presidential ballot. In 2020 the “not-Trump, not-Biden” vote split among four minor parties and write-ins – including a somewhat organized effort for Evan McMullin among non-Trump Republicans – was about 133,000 out of more than 4 million ballots cast.

In this year’s presidential primary, the “not-Trump, not-Biden” vote was almost 244,000, out of about 1.7 million cast. In other words, 50% more “someone else” votes in fewer than half as many ballots.

Got your data right here

The state Elections Division has crunched more data from the 2024 presidential primary than any previous presidential primary, providing deeper information about voters on both a statewide and county-by-county basis

Among the information available on the Washington Secretary of State’s website are charts that show Democrats and Republicans were about equally comfortable with early voting. More than 986,000 of the ballots were either delivered by the mail or collected from drop boxes in the week before the election deadline.

Most days, the number of ballot envelopes checked for the Republican Party was within a thousand or so of the envelopes checked for the Democratic Party. There was, however, a late surge for the Democrats.

On March 12, which was the day before the deadline, the number of Democratic ballots surpassed the Republican ballots by more than 60,000. The next day, Democratic ballots topped Republican ballots by about 8,000.

Republicans and Democrats were about equally split on how they returned their ballots, with about half returned to drop boxes and half sent in by mail. Overall, 51% of all ballots came by mail and 48% by drop boxes. That’s a significant shift from the 2022 and 2023 general elections, when the drop box returns were at 61% and 56%, respectively.

As is typical for most elections, voters aged 65 and older had the highest turnout, at about 62%. All other age groups were below 50%, with the voting blocs between 18 and 34 down around 20%.

The requirement to choose a party to vote in the primary may have kept turnout down in a state where many voters profess their independence. But it also gives a rare look at the relative party strength. Democrats had an advantage of a few percentage points in most age groups, although slightly more Republican ballots were cast by voters aged 55 to 64.