If you peruse the primary election results from last week, you’ll notice that there were a fair number of really close races.
Rep. Brady Walkinshaw and King County Councilmember Joe McDermott were separated by just a couple thousand votes in the battle for second place to Pramila Jayapal — and a spot on the general election ballot — in the 7th Congressional District.
Four candidates for state treasurer received between 18 and 25 percent of the vote, while four contenders for lieutenant governor all netted between 15 and 22.
While it wasn’t the case in Queen Anne and Magnolia — where all three members of the 36th District legislative delegation ran unopposed — just a few hundred votes were the difference in state Senate and House races.
Now, as the top-two vote-getters in each race gear up for November, candidates left off of the fall ballot are likely asking one simple question: What if more people had voted?
The secretary of state’s office estimated turnout for the primary at an abysmal 41 percent of Washington’s 4.1 million registered voters (in a state of 7 million people). It’s worth noting that the fact that there are only 4.1 million registered voters is problematic in and of itself, but that’s another issue entirely.
With a jam-packed ballot for important local and state-wide races — races that had more than two qualified candidates — what is it going to take for people to actually cast their vote?
Secretary of State Kim Wyman has said that it’s what’s on the ballot that truly drives voter turnout to the polls. To an extent, that’s true. Obviously many, many more people are going to cast ballots in November during a presidential year, especially when voters will also determine their new representative for Congress.
But that argument also falls flat when you look at the number of hotly-contested races and ballot measures that voters had presented to them this month. Despite that, turnout was merely mediocre.
There’s no simple solution to curing voter apathy. Perhaps candidates and their volunteers have to make a better case. Maybe more needs to be done on the municipal or state level to emphasize the importance of voting, and what the roles of many of these elected officials are. People would probably take a greater interest in the state treasurer race if they realized that the person in that role oversees approximately $11 billion in state investments.
Certainly, making it easier to vote (requiring a stamp is a large barrier, for one) would help.
But let this serve as a wake-up call: Your vote does count, and your vote is important.
There are a bunch of qualified candidates that won’t be campaigning the next few months that agree.