As of Wednesday night, 84,318 Snohomish County ballots out of 417,448 issued had been returned — a dismal 20 percent turnout. That number will tick up with 11th-hour voters who mailed their ballots Tuesday, but it's dispiriting. In Island County, the return rate was less dreary at 36 percent.
“Low-voter turnout in primaries equals low-media interest; and low-media interest reinforces low turnout the next primary season,” writes Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution. More significantly, it magnifies existing political divisions. “The low turnout and obscurity in which most congressional primaries take place makes them an easy, inexpensive place for factions within a political party to exercise influence and increase partisan polarization,” she writes.
Kamarck's analysis plays out in the First Congressional District, where first-term incumbent Suzan DelBene may face an underfunded insurgent Republican, Robert Sutherland. Party favorite Pedro Celis, a political novice like Sutherland, was unable to galvanize the Republican base (he still could squeak ahead as more returns trickle in.) Celis was the insider-annointed recruit: A first-generation Mexican-American who thrived at Microsoft and whose sensible-center politics align with the gerrymandered district. But top-down, handpicked contenders lose traction in low-turnout primaries.
In a three-candidate primary, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick managed a disappointing 47 percent, despite high name recognition and raising 10-to-1 more campaign dough than his opponents. Lovick, who has never lost an election, remains the favorite and could win simply by reminding voters of the integrity and spirit of renewal he's brought to the executive's office. Whatever the outcome, Lovick and his Republican opponent, Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick, should use the coming weeks to foster a spirited debate regarding budget priorities, the new courthouse, economic development, criminal justice and a transportation-finance package.
One race will be a nail-biter, the 44th district, Pos. 2, which pits Republican Mark Harmsworth against Democrat Mike Wilson. Harmsworth was leading by 286 votes on Wednesday.
Washington's open primary provides a vivid reminder that party affiliation still matters. In races in the 21st and 32nd legislative districts, where Republican candidates ran low-profile campaigns, the Republicans still made it through crowded primaries.
Onward. The people have spoken. Some of them.
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