Voters just aren’t motivated to participate in primary

Roughly 400,000 residents of Snohomish County are registered to vote in the primary election now under way.

Most won’t.

Ballots went out a week ago and only about 16,000, or about 4 percent had been returned as of Wednesday. While that’s a long way from the 38 percent turnout averaged by the county in recent mid-term elections, officials say they are on the course to getting there.

To those of you with an unmarked and unreturned ballot, what are you going to do with it? Will you vote or won’t you and why?

I’ve heard from some eligible voters intending to sit this one out and return for the general election in November “when it matters.”

One reason I understand is that ballots often include races with unopposed incumbents or only two candidates, both of whom will advance regardless of their performance due to the top-two format. What’s the point, they say.

And, with a couple of exceptions, contests featuring multiple candidates aren’t stirring the passions of voters because many of those running aren’t in it to win it. They’ll tell you they plunked down the money to get on the ballot in order to gain a platform for a cause.

If Snohomish County — and Washington as a whole — breaks the 30 percent turnout bar its scaled in the past it will be an anomaly of sorts, as a new study this year found unusual levels of electoral disinterest in many parts of the country.

The analysis released Wednesday by the head of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate found in the 25 states that have held statewide primaries for both political parties prior to July 1, voter participation is down by nearly one-fifth, compared to the 2010 primary.

Fifteen of those states set new lows for turnout, according to the study. Nevada and Iowa didn’t break 10 percent and only four states — Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana and Nebraska — finished above the 20 percent level, according to the study.

Curtis Gans, the center director and report’s author, concluded that making voting convenient for voters just isn’t stimulating turnout as envisioned. Four states with Election Day registration — Colorado, Idaho, Iowa and Maine — all had lower turnout in 2014 as compared to 2010, the report says.

Voting by mail doesn’t do the trick either; Oregon and California use it and each recorded the lowest turnouts ever for a midterm primary, the report found.

Gans cited a litany of factors contributing to why eligible voters don’t vote.

Among them are attack ad-fueled campaigns “that give the citizen a perceived choice between bad and awful”; a lack of voters’ faith in government; the ideological bent of the two major parties; inadequate civic education; and the impact of modern technology which has “made grazing the Internet a substitute for reading the news” for many voting-age adults.

“Many decades ago, citizens turned out to vote out of a sense of civic duty and because of an allegiance to one or other major party,” Gans wrote. “That motivation has largely been lost.”

Whether that will turn out to be the case will be known when balloting ends Aug. 5.

Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos

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