Thurston County voters are hanging on to their ballots, but Auditor Kim Wyman is sticking with her prediction of 60 percent to 61 percent turnout in Tuesday's vote-by-mail election.
As of Friday, fewer than 22 percent of eligible county voters had returned ballots – 32,244 out of 147,311 registered voters.
“It really depends on what happens Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The last five elections, we’ve gotten half of our ballots back the week of the election,” Wyman said Friday. “I like to think most people will be looking at the issues over the weekend and then voting.”
Two high-profile statewide ballot measures – Referendum 71’s expansion of rights for same-sex domestic partners and some senior couples, and Initiative 1033’s limits on revenue growth for the state, cities and counties – are big ballot draws, and both have fueled television ads that could push voter turnout.
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Locally, the race for Thurston County commissioner between Democrat Karen Valenzuela and Republican challenger Patrick Beehler is drawing the efforts of party activists on both sides. Also, city council races in Olympia pit candidates on two sides of a controversial high-rise rezone of the isthmus that separates Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake; council races in Lacey have challengers upset about a fire district issue; and in Tumwater, council members Pete Kmet and Neil McClanahan both want the job of outgoing mayor Ralph Osgood, who prefers Kmet.
An Olympia port race between Dave Peeler and Jeff Davis is dividing Democratic activists in labor and environmental camps. In contrast, numerous other races around the county for councils, school boards and fire district seats have only one candidate.
Wyman’s staff members are encouraging voters bringing back ballots in person to avoid the county courthouse drop box Monday. That’s because it’s the deadline for payment of property taxes, and parking could be hellacious.
“I’ve been encouraging people to use one of the other 23 drop sites,” Wyman said.
Wyman’s staff members hope, on election night, to run a single count of tabulated ballots collected and processed Monday and early Tuesday, with the night’s results published shortly after 8 p.m. That means any race within 2 or 3 percentage points probably will be “too close to call” that night, Wyman said.
Statewide, Secretary of State Sam Reed predicts turnout in the range of 51 percent, but turnout could hit 56 percent in populous King County, where a county executive race and Seattle mayor’s race are drawing strong campaigns.
Matt Barreto, a University of Washington professor who helped craft the Washington Poll, says heavy Seattle turnout could make the difference for R-71 and I-1033.
The presidential election last year drove turnout to almost 86 percent in Thurston County and just below that statewide. That was well above the county’s odd-year turnout of 50 percent in 2007, 55.8 percent in 2005 and 39.3 percent in 2003. In 1999, county turnout was 62.3 percent.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688