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Voter Apathy by Mail?



August 20, 2010

SEATTLE - Washington's primary elections take place in mid-August, during the dog days of summer, which may or may not account for this week's low overall turnout. The ballot totals by county range from highs of more than 60 percent in Columbia, Lincoln, San Juan and Wahkiakum counties, to lows of 24 to 26 percent in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Stevens counties.

The statewide average is about 30 percent, which means more than two-thirds of registered voters did not mail in their ballots. Allison Feher, president of the League of Women Voters of Seattle, says some believe changing the primary date from September to August has had a negative effect on voting.

"A lot of people are busy; they're away on vacation. I don't know that moving it up made it better for people. It certainly has made it more challenging for us, in terms of getting the information together, getting in contact with people, organizing events."

The state Elections Division says the primary date was moved in 2007 to ensure that military and overseas voters got their ballots on time.

Mail-in ballots are supposed to be more convenient and less expensive for counties than having polling places, Feher says, adding that they also give people more time to study the issues...if they remember to do so.

"When you have the polling places, there's a lot of stuff going on that reminds people to get out and vote. But with the all-vote-by-mail process, the deadline can get a little fuzzier, and people can miss it. They say, 'Let's just toss it in the "I'll get to that later" pile,' and then they never do."

All Washington voters have had the option of voting by absentee ballot since 1993, but only in the past five years have most counties decided to conduct all elections by mail. Pierce County is the only one that still maintains polling places - and it also had the lowest voter turnout this week, at just under 24 percent.

Some of this year's ballots are still being counted. The election results must be certified within 15 days of the primary. The latest results by county can be found online at http://vote.wa.gov/elections/wei/.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA
 

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