Voter turnout was low, but how low depends on where you live in Thurston County

Only 34 percent of Thurston County voters earned I Voted stickers in the Nov. 7 election.
Only 34 percent of Thurston County voters earned I Voted stickers in the Nov. 7 election.

In Thurston County, about 34 percent of voters submitted ballots to decide the winners of the Nov. 7 election. That is lower than expected, even in a non-presidential election year when expectations are low.

But some communities were more engaged than others.

Although both Lacey and Olympia had city council seats up for grabs, the voter turnout was about 10 percentage points higher in Olympia.

Of 34,220 registered voters in Olympia, nearly 42 percent voted. In neighboring Lacey, about 31 percent of the 27,000 registered voters submitted ballots.

Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall said that could be because of the nature of the races.

“I think the races in Olympia were more contentious,” Hall said.

In Olympia, four races were contested. Three of those races had incumbents — Clark Gilman, Jeannine Roe and Jim Cooper. Roe ended up losing her seat to challenger Renata Rollins, who ended up with about 54 percent of the votes.

The remaining incumbents won.

In Position 5, incumbent Julie Hankins opted not to run again. Newcomer Lisa Parshley ultimately defeated Allen Miller with about 62 percent of the vote.

In Lacey, two of the five city council races were contested. Incumbent Michael Steadman defeated Robert Mozer with about 68 percent of the vote. Carolyn Cox defeated Ken Balsley for the seat being vacated by Virgil Clarkson.

Tumwater followed a pattern similar to Lacey’s. Nearly 33 percent of the city’s 14,907 registered voters submitted ballots.

Three races were contested: the mayoral race and two council seats. But incumbent Mayor Pete Kmet and council victors Michael Althauser and Debbie Sullivan each defeated their opponents by large margins.

Yelm had the lowest voter turnout of all the cities in Thurston County, with only about 28 percent of registered voters submitting ballots. In the mayor’s race, JW Foster defeated Joe DePinto by 14 votes, 633-619.

Overall, Bucoda had the highest percentage of ballot returns. Nearly 47 percent of the town’s 328 registered voters voted.

The town had a contested mayoral race, won by incumbent Alan Carr, and contested town council position, won by Steven Lyle.

Countywide, voter returns were low — even lower than expected, Hall said. She had predicted that between 35 and 40 percent of voters would have returned ballots.

The low turnout can largely be attributed to last year’s presidential election, she said. More people registered last year so they could vote for President, but they weren’t interested in voting in local races.

“Our voter registration numbers increase substantially during presidential elections,” Hall said. “We’re at the height of our voter registration. So of course returns are going to drop the following year.”

Returns Data:

District Registration Ballots Returned Percent Returned
County of Thurston 176,312 60,434 34.28%
Cities & Towns      
City of Lacey 27,807 8,756 31.49%
City of Olympia 34,220 14,269 41.70%
City of Rainier 1,242 428 34.46%
City of Tenino 1,039 307 29.55%
City of Tumwater 14,907 4,911 32.94%
City of Yelm 4,485 1,273 28.38%
Town of Bucoda 328 154 46.95%

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly