Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WA had 2nd-highest eligible-voter turnout in U.S. in 2010

by January 18th, 2012

As its share of ballots cast by mail has steadily increased, Washington state in 2010 reached a new high in national ranking of “voting-eligible population” voter turnout, a more precise measure of civic engagement than the traditional turnout reports on the percent of registered voters who voted. One of only two U.S. states along with Oregon where all voting is now by mail, Washington state ranked second highest in percent of the voting-eligible population which actually cast ballots counted in the November 2010 elections. This is according to a recently-updated report based on government data and released by the United States Elections Project at George Mason University.

Although most media reports traditionally frame “voter turnout” simply in terms of the percentage of registered voters who vote, that measure ignores a sizable group of citizens who are eligible to vote but fail to even register. The “voting-eligible population” in each state is determined by the United States Elections Project by using data from the U.S. Census and the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice. Along with those too young to vote, non-citizens and ineligible-to-vote felons are filtered out, to arrive at voting-eligible population. In Washington state in the 2010 mid-term elections for Congress, state, regional and local offices and ballot measures, 54.3 percent of voters who were actually eligible to vote turned in counted ballots. Only Minnesota had a higher rate, 55.9 percent. Tied for third were Oregon and South Dakota at 53.9 percent.

By 2010 according to data from the Washington Secretary of State’s office, 98.7 percent of Washington votes were classified as “absentee,” another term for sent in by mail. By the fall 2011 elections, 100 percent of votes were cast by mail in Washington. Another factor likely to have influenced turnout in Washington in 2010 was the presence of several hot-button ballot initiatives on the fall ballot. Voters decided measures on a new state income tax for high earners, liquor privatization, a two-thirds legislative majority requirement for tax hikes, and proposed state withdrawal from worker’s compensation. In addition, there was a U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Patty Murray and challenger Dino Rossi.

Nonetheless in the previous mid-term election of 2006, Washington voters also faced controversial ballot initiatives and another U.S. Senate contest, but the percent of ballots cast by mail statewide was 10 points lower than in 2010 and the state’s rank in percent of voting-eligible population whose ballots were counted was not 2nd nationally as in 2010 but 17th, at 47.3. In the 2002 mid-term, only 65.7 percent of Washington ballots were cast by mail and the state ranked 19th in percent of voting-eligible population whose ballots were counted.

David Ammons, a spokesman for Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, said that although outreach by public officials, campaign spending on ads, and ballot measures all influence turnout it’s still “hard to overstate the influence of vote-by-mail” on voter participation. “Having the ballot in your house for three weeks is a powerful reminder” to complete it and send it in by election day, and it’s a lot easier than trying to find time to make your way to a physical polling place on election day, he added.

Dr. Michael McDonald of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia is the founder and director of the United States Election Project. He said vote-by-mail rates can and do influence off-year elections but are not much of a factor in presidential year elections when more voters are determined to vote whatever the circumstances. “It makes some sense” that the increasing vote-by-mail rate in Washington state is related to the high turnout of eligible voters in 2010 but several more years of off-year election data are needed to confirm the connection, he said.

Nationally, in the 2010 mid-term elections 41.7 percent of the voting-eligible population turned in counted ballots. The traditionally-calculated voter turnout figure was higher. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s 2010 Election Administration and Voting Survey 48.6 percent of registered voters voted.

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One Response to “WA had 2nd-highest eligible-voter turnout in U.S. in 2010”

  1. Jim Dwyer says:

    by Jim Dwyer

    When you examine what the Republicans are offering as Presidential candidates for 2012, the phrase that comes to mind is “Send in the clowns”. Which is unfortunate, since this promises to be the most important election in American history since the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.
    We might recall that Lincoln basically freed the slaves when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, thereby infuriating the South which depended on their cotton-picking slaves to keep their economy going. At the same time, our Civil War was not going well for Lincoln and the North, making freeing the slaves a gutsy call.
    While our President Barack Obama doesn’t have a Civil War to fight, he has a political war to fight with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Recently, over the objections of the GOP, he made some key recess appointments that the Senate Republicans were blocking. Ignoring the numerous recess appointments made by his predecessor President Bush, the GOP is screaming foul, that Obama is violating the US Constitution.
    But even with the stakes as high as they are for 2012, what can we expect from American voters? Will they turn out for Obama like they did in 2008? Or will they feign boredom and miss the chance to elevate the political dialogue and instead will allow the Republicans to grab control of the government again, to outlaw abortion, to pass more tax breaks for the wealthy, and to bomb Iran?
    And while we wonder what voters will do nationally, let’s not forget our lazy Cochise County Democrats who sat on their brains during the 2010 election, didn’t vote and thereby allowed such as the Tea Baggers to flood Congress with what Oscar Wilde called English fox hunters: the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.
    Yes, in 2010 more than 9,000 of our local registered Dems demonstrated that the inconvenience of voting far outweighed the pleasures of feet-up before the TV, beer in hand, or shopping for tasty treats. Wonder what they were thinking when they woke up after election day and discovered that the Legislature of the most powerful nation on Earth had been turned over to the crazies. Maybe they weren’t thinking.
    Growing up in Chicago, I can’t remember an election day, even in the worst of weather, when a majority of registered Democrats didn’t vote. Of course if you didn’t vote, you would find your local precinct captain banging on your front door offering a ride to the polling place. Trouble with Cochise County is that if someone banged on a rural non-voter’s door, they might be shot.
    And since we don’t have pushy precinct captains in Cochise County, what to do to encourage our lazy local voters to utilize one of the several ways to vote in 2012? Perhaps one way to get such action in Cochise County is to show some skin, as in streaking through Old Bisbee, which is what I propose to do on a warm Saturday afternoon in November if the vote count has officially registered at least 8,000 more registered Dems voting than in 2010.
    My uniform of the Streaking Day will be: cap, sun glasses, knee pads (sometimes I fall), socks, shoes, and an appropriate fig leaf. With any luck, some local seamstresses will design a fig leaf with wording such as: “Old Bisbee Streaking for Votes, 2012”. If enough fig leafs are donated, we may be able to get more folks involved in the streak and later be able to raise some money off used fig leafs at the annual Cake Auction. I can feel your enthusiasm rising.
    So if you should bother to attend or to participate in the streak, what can you expect to see? In my case, not much except what my oncologist sees. But then it’s the thought that counts. And so I will be in training for my fall streak, plowing up and down the streets and potholes of Old Bisbee, hoping that I will be joined by others as we search for the missing 9,000 Cochise County Democrats and for a return to civility in Congress. And don’t forget your fig leaf.