Healthy voter turnout is expected in county

Staff and Herald news services

The close race for president is unlikely to translate into higher voter turnout this year nationwide, but an official said Thursday he expects Snohomish County to buck that trend.

Nationwide, only about half of eligible voters are expected to go to the polls Tuesday, about the same as in 1996, according to projections. But Snohomish County has a reputation for doing much better than the national average.

"We’re expecting a pretty high turnout here," said Scott Konopasek, the Snohomish County elections manager. "We always historically have. We’re expecting about 80 to 85 percent turnout."

In 1996, when all the polls showed President Clinton way out front and there wasn’t much incentive to vote, 76 percent of Snohomish County voters still took the time to cast their ballots, he said.

Four years before that, when Ross Perot stirred things up, 84 percent of registered voters voted here.

"I think that there’s an ethic here and a level of interest in government that isn’t necessarily present in other states," Konopasek said.

There are nearly 340,000 registered voters in Snohomish County, out of about 600,000 residents.

Nationwide, roughly 49 percent of the electorate voted in 1996, the lowest turnout since 1924. Even with what may be the closest presidential race in 40 years, analysts don’t expect the turnout to be appreciably higher, although some competitive states may see an increase.

"The likelihood is that this election will not be like 1996, when every state had lower turnout," said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. "Some of the battleground states, particularly those with other high-profile elections — Washington, Florida, Michigan and Missouri — may have higher turnout.

"But since about 33 states and the District of Columbia were not targeted by the campaigns, it is likely that turnout will fall in most of those states."

Gans developed the projections in his report using registration figures, poll data, TV viewership of conventions and debates, and other measures of public interest in the campaign.

The projection could vary slightly, but Gans does not expect to repeat the 55 percent turnout from 1992, one of the few presidential elections when turnout spiked upward during four decades of gradual decline.

A poll this week by the Pew Research Center also predicted turnout similar to 1996. Two-thirds of registered voters say they have given quite a lot of thought to Tuesday’s election. That is about the same as October 1996, a year when 49 percent voted, and October 1988, when 50 percent voted.

In 1992, about three-fourths said just before the election that they had given a lot of thought to the upcoming vote.

Decades ago, voter turnout was thought to be a predictor of election outcomes and Republicans did better in years of lower turnout.

But research in recent years suggests this is no longer the case. Intensity of voter sentiment, which now favors Republican George W. Bush, may be a more crucial factor.

About 63 percent of those eligible to vote cast ballots in 1960, and the rate generally has declined since then, except for 1992, when Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy and Bill Clinton’s first run at the White House sparked voter interest.

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