The town post office and general store in Index, Washington on Wedesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

The town post office and general store in Index, Washington on Wedesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Index, smallest town in Snohomish County, is No. 1 in voter turnout

Index has beaten the Snohomish County ballot return rate in each of the last 10 years. Snohomish County leaders have a few theories as to why.

INDEX — The smallest municipality in Snohomish County had the highest turnout in last month’s election.

This year was not an outlier, either. The town of Index has had a higher ballot return rate than Snohomish County as a whole in each of the last 10 years.

There are 136 registered voters in the town, a rock climber’s paradise nestled along the Skykomish River in the shadow of the Cascades. Snohomish County saw 36.07% of registered voters return a ballot in this year’s election — roughly on par with statewide turnout, a modern day record low. Compare that to Index, where 60.29% of residents returned a ballot.

Locals put it down to one simple fact: people care.

“It’s a tight-knit community,” said Chelsea Estep-Armstrong, a newly elected member of the Index school board. “People are invested.”

Precise demographic data for Index is hard to find, but the town has a median age of about 50, according to census data. Around 30% of the population is over 60 years old, according to the same data.

Older Americans are more likely to vote. Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell attributed Index’s sterling voting record to a couple things.

“In general, factors like older voters or more economically advantaged voters tend to turn out in higher rates,” Fell said. “But it also could do simply with the size of Index and the connection that a community feels to its town government and elected officials and the impact those individuals can have on the daily life of town residents.”

He added: “It is true and clear voters in Index do have a care for the process and an interest in participating that exceeds other jurisdictions.”

Five town council members and one mayor govern Index. The school district, which has 19 students, has five school board positions. Four were voted on this year.

A 2022 levy for the school district was overwhelmingly approved — 78.57% of voters checked yes even as attendance has dipped. There were around 40 students in the Index School District in 2019.

Seven total local elections appeared on the ballot for those in Index this year. Three were contested, and of those, two were decided by 18 votes or fewer. The tightest race was decided by single digits: Position 4 on the Index Town Council. Scott MacDonald won, grabbing 43 votes to Chad Walker’s 35.

It was the only contested town council race. Running unopposed, Jon Jackson received 65 votes for Position 2, while Alysse Hotz took 67 votes for Position 5.

More than half of the Index School District’s 372 registered voters filled in boxes on their ballots for all three school board races.

Estep-Armstrong won her first term in office over Troy Bender, 105 votes to 58.

Caleb Carrington was unopposed for Position 1, garnering 145 votes against four write-in ballots.

In Position 4, Kim Elias beat Mallory Sullivan 90 votes to 72. Amy R. Johnson was unopposed for Position 5, taking 144 votes against four write-ins.

Index School District was the sixth-smallest in the state during the 2022-23 school year.

Four teachers are listed on the school’s website. Small Washington schools face a host of challenges, a fact that emboldened Estep-Armstrong ran.

“I think there are changes afoot in education everywhere,” she said. “And what that means for small schools remains to be seen.”

Estep-Armstrong is part of a newer influx of residents. She moved to Index in the past decade.

There is a worry that Index, a renowned climbing destination, could turn into a community of vacation homes and nothing else. She said the younger residents want to continue its rich history, rather than building a community that’s “not actually a suitable place to raise a family.”

“I think there’s a precarity there,” she said, “and I think that impels action on some level.”

The closest race in the county was in an even smaller jurisdiction. In a race for a spot on the Fire District 27 commission, Brad Tinius beat Mike Worthy by four votes, 33 to 29.

The fire district covers Hat Island, with 103 registered voters. Of those, 66 returned ballots, for a turnout rate of 64.08%.

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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