Counties across WA have certified their election returns, formally locking in results that have been known (for the most part) for three weeks.
Certification does allow us an even clearer picture of a couple of lessons Shift can draw from this year’s general election. The first deals with voter turnout, and the second with the rarity of competitive races this year – which likely impacted the first lesson.
Regarding turnout, once again election officials had too much faith in voter interest. Predictions of participation in the low-to-mid 80’s were common in the weeks before ballots were mailed.
Instead, less than 79% of the state’s 4.27 million registered voters actually returned their ballot. This was the lowest turnout in a presidential election year since 2000.
There are as many theories for why people don’t vote as there are campaign consultants and media talking heads making money for developing such theories. Perhaps it was the pair of unpopular candidates running for president which caused voters to tune out. Or it was the fact that voter registration has surged in recent years (with more than 365,000 signed up since 2012), and the folks taking advantage of easier registration rules just don’t have a tradition of voting.
Or, turning to our second lesson, it could be because there just were not that many compelling races on the ballot. Consider that there were far more state legislative races with only one candidate on the ballot (25), or one major party candidate running against a third party name (23), than there were races decided by less than 10% (16). This lack of competition at the local level means that far fewer voters had someone actually working for their vote, or coming to their door and ask for it.
None of the partisan state offices ended up very close, despite four races lacking an incumbent. Only Auditor winner Pat McCarthy received less than 53%, but finished over 140,000 votes ahead of her opponent. And even though the three State Supreme Court races received more attention than usual, all were decided by 14% +.
The trend was just as pronounced in our federal races. The presidential candidates only came here for money, and Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 16% without advertising here. Not a single one of the 10 congressional incumbents on the ballot was seriously challenged by a foe with even nominal resources. Patty Murray won her Senate race by 18%, and no U.S. House winner received less than 55%, even the one (Pramila Jayapal) running for an open seat.
And, initiatives which often can be counted on to excite some voter segments were largely snoozers. Of the six on the ballot, only the carbon tax (I-732) faced opposition with some funding, and it failed 59-41%. None of the rest were within 7%, with three topping 60% support.
This lack of competition in most legislative districts across the state certainly contributed to the turnout drop. The question remains whether voters will come back at the 80%+ level as in the previous three elections, or whether now that the shine has worn off all-mail voting that presidential year voting will stay in the 70’s.