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Wash. Voter Turnout Appears At 36-Year Low

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
FILE - Bill Liang, of Sammamish, Wash., peers into the slot as he drop in his ballot at a ballot drop box Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Seattle.

Voter turnout in Washington state could be a 36-year low. Not since 1978 has such a small percentage of registered voters participated in a Washington election. 

The year 1978 was when Washington voters approved a ban on mandatory busing. That year, just 52percent of registered voters cast a ballot. Turnout this year in on tract to beat that, at 54 percent — 8 points lower than Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman projected back in September.

One factor that might explain the paltry turnout in Washington: the lack of a statewide race for governor or a senator.

“We knew that turnout definitely was going to be a factor," said Shannon Murphy, who leads Washington Conservation Voters.

Murphy's group knocked on 90,000 doors to get out the vote on behalf of Democratic candidates in three key state Senate districts. All three of those candidates lost.

“It definitely is a disappointment, but our movement that we are building is bigger than one election," Murphy said.

There were some bright spots in Washington. Garfield County in the southeast corner of the state gets the gold star with 80-percent turnout among its 15,000 voters.

Turnout was stronger in Oregon where nearly 70 percent of voters cast a ballot. Idaho saw a 58-percent voter turnout.


Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.