SEATTLE - If predictions hold, Washington may have its strongest turnout for a midterm election in 40 years.
Secretary of state spokesman David Ammons says officials estimate that two-thirds, or 2.4 million of the state’s 3.6 million register voters, will have had their say after all ballots are counted. About 98 percent of registered voters are casting ballots by mail — Pierce is the only one of Washington’s 39 counties that still has polling places — which could mean long delays in determining winners of close races.
“People are very enthused about this election,” Ammons said, with nine ballot issues, the red-hot race between incumbent Patty Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi, and at least four close contests for U.S. House seats capturing attention.
The last time interest was this high for a midterm vote was in 1970, when abortion rights and a proposed state income tax were on the ballot, he said.
Among this year’s proposals are two competing initiatives to end the state’s monopoly on hard liquor sales, an effort to restore the requirement of a two-thirds legislative vote to raise taxes or fees, and a measure to impose an income tax on highly paid residents.
Votes started being counted at 8 p.m. and most counties posted initial results within an hour.
Most of the state’s larger counties are expecting turnouts of 60 percent or better.
Spokane County estimates about 67 percent of its 261,000 registered voters will take part, Auditor Vicky Dalton said. As of midmorning, her office had received about 130,000 ballots with a steady stream of people dropping off ballots at her office.
Echoing Ammons, she said the number of initiatives and close candidate races are pushing the turnout, but there’s also the focus on elections nationally — “just the heightened interest in government and the effect government has on your everyday life.”
In King County, the state’s most populous, about 520,000 ballots had been returned by Tuesday morning. Once all votes are in, ballots are expected from 720,000 or about 65 percent of the county’s 1.1 million eligible voters, said county elections spokeswoman Katie Gilliam.
On the Olympic Peninsula, Clallam County has estimated a 72 percent participation, while Jefferson County is forecasting up to 80 percent.
The state measures and some hard-fought local races are bringing out the votes, said Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand.
Though ballots could be cast anytime after they were mailed out in mid-October, the surge comes on Election Day and a day or two before. Election officials say many people need to think about measures that can be complex.