In Our Opinion: Once again, area voter apathy in primary prevails
With most of the vote tabulating done it appears Washington's primary election turnout is going to fall far short of Secretary of State Sam Reed's projection of 46 percent. And that's too bad.
As of Monday, Aug. 13, 36.08 percent of registered Washington voters had cast a ballot in the Aug. 7 primary. Spokane County's count was just ahead of the state, with 38.41 percent voting as of Aug. 13. Jefferson County voters topped all counties with a 57.03 percent turnout while Cowlitz County brought up the rear at 28.32 percent.
Granted, voter turnout in Spokane County wasn't as bad as in past primaries. Last year's Aug. 16 vote garnered a turnout of 26.47 percent, with the lowest, according to statistics compiled since 1952, being 13.9 percent in 1979.
Participation in primaries has always lagged when compared to general election stats, even in presidential years. The highest turnout for a primary was in 1964, 55.4 percent, with 81 percent voting that year in the general featuring incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater. The highest turnout for a general election in Spokane County was four years ago, 85.8 percent.
We realize there are reasons primary turnout is seldom high. A new federal law in 2011 requires ballots be sent to overseas voters no later than 45 days before an election, and since that left little time after the certification of the former primary in late-September to get the ballots out, Washington election officials moved the primary to August.
August is that last month of reprieve before the beginning of school, a time when many people take vacations or spend more weekends at the lake or out playing. Minds aren't focused on candidates or issues.
But with elections now all mail-in, and ballots mailed three weeks before the election date, one would think there would be time to sit down and vote in the leisurely pace surrounding ones kitchen table. Even with that time span, according to Spokane County statistics, almost half, 52,069, of the 106,128 – out of 270,928 total – ballots were returned between Aug. 6 and Aug. 13.
Just over 74 percent of voters who bothered to return ballots, 78,564, waited until the last 7-8 days before the election date to make their decision. With several races having multiple candidates it's understandable that the decision required some thinking, but that's a good thing.
As for the rest of the 164,800 county voters who didn't bother, we'd like to know what your excuse is. Surely not everyone was on vacation during this time period, or so busy they couldn't bother to take an hour out of their schedule to sit down, go online and read the voters pamphlet or the myriad of mailings to make a decision.
Likely some people reviewed this information and decided they didn't like any of the choices so they elected not to vote. Unfortunately democracy isn't always pretty, nor is it neat and clean.
But to be effective democracy requires participation, regardless of the choices. Especially so in the primary, because if people don't feel they have good choices in the primary, they may find even less attractive candidates in the general.
Voting is the muscle of democracy. It's powerful and can do good things when used and used correctly, but can atrophy and become ineffective when not exercised.
It's important to exercise our right to vote regardless of our taste for, or distaste with, the choices offered. Maybe we need to start offering incentives to get people to become more active in the election process, but if so, that would be a shame.
Offering a reward in order to get someone to perform a civic duty many have fought and died to protect is no way to run a republic.