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Low Voter Turnout Forecast for August Primary

Office of the Secretary of State

It's that time of year when life slows down a bit, people go on vacation and they study the voters' guide for the summer primary. What? An election in August?  Yes, Aug. 6 to be exact. Because it's an off-year election with no presidential or gubernatorial candidates in the running, voter participation is predicted to be low.

Matt Barreto, an associate political science professor at the University of Washington, says the lack of interest could be caused by "voter fatigue."

"Here in the U.S., we have so many elections for so many different offices happening every single year that it's a bit complicated to be a voter in our government, in our democracy, that you're constantly having to vote on different items," he said. 

Interesting results can happen on off-year elections. Remember the summer primary in 2009 when former Mayor Greg Nickels was ahead in the polls by a small margin and ended up losing to Mike McGinn and Jo Mallahan? 

Barreto says that race was a good example of what can happen when the stakes are high and fewer votes are cast. In these situations, candidates with strong, grassroots armies behind them can have a louder voice. 

"That's much harder to do in a large general election such as a governor's election or a presidential election. Those are much more predictable. Those polls are very accurate," Barreto said. 

The pattern of low voter turnout in off-year primaries is clear when you look back at the numbers. In 2008, voter participation was 42 percent, which dropped to 31 percent the following year. Then in 2010, it bumped back up to 40 percent. 

If you plan to cast your ballot for this year's primary, it needs to be postmarked by Election Day. In King County, elections officials are trying to make it easy for people to get their ballots in on time. There will be 12 drop vans collecting ballots until 8 p.m. on Aug. 6. Ballots handed in this way don't need any postage.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.