EVERETT — Washington’s presidential primary is inciting strong interest among voters in both political parties — and anger among those who don’t want to swear an oath to either.
Ballots for the March 10 election went out last week and 53,663, or 11.2% of registered voters, had been returned in Snohomish County as of Thursday morning. At this pace, turnout will far exceed the 32.5% recorded in 2016.
“It’s exciting to see people are participating this early in the process,” said county Auditor Garth Fell.
Across the state, nearly 422,000 votes had been cast as of late Wednesday, or 9.4% of registered voters. That’s nearly four times the amount at this juncture in 2016, said Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
“I’m very, very excited and a little surprised,” she said of the pace. “You’ve got engaged people who are fired up and want their voice heard.”
Several factors are likely contributing to the robust early rate of return.
It’s earlier on the calendar after lawmakers agreed to move it from May to March.
It matters, at least in the Democratic Party. There are 13 Democratic candidates with seven still actively competing for the party’s nomination — though their ranks could thin following March 3. That’s Super Tuesday when primaries are planned in more than a dozen states, including California.
And it is meaningful. The state Democratic Party, for the first time, will use the results in allocating delegates. Until now, Democrats relied on caucuses and only the Republican Party dished out delegates based on vote tallies.
Not surprisingly, more ballots are getting cast for Democratic candidates. The Republican ballot only has one name on it, President Donald Trump.
In Snohomish County, there have been 29,045 Democratic ballots and 22,557 Republican ballots cast, comprising 54.1% and 42% respectively.
Statewide, as of Wednesday evening, 220,798 people, or 52.3%, voted a Democratic ballot, and 185,957, 44.1%, a Republican ballot. Roughly 13,000 chose neither but still sent their ballot in.
“What we are seeing is voters are extremely interested in this primary because they recognize it is the most important election that will set the course of our country for several decades,” said Will Casey, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.
Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the state Republican Party, was heartened by the strong showing of people picking a Republican ballot.
“Every Democrat in the state has every reason to vote,” he said. “I am thrilled that so many Republicans are checking the box and getting their ballots in. Certainly we’re seeing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the direction of the country under the leadership of Donald Trump.”
But not every voter is thrilled with the rules for this election.
They are unhappy that in order to have their ballot counted, they must declare their allegiance to the political party of the candidate they back. The presidential primary is the only election in which this is required.
Frustrating them further is knowing their information including address, gender and the party they chose, is publicly available on the Secretary of State’s website.
Roughly 13,000 voters statewide — 2,061 in Snohomish County — chose not to pick a party in the first days of returns. They still sent in their ballot in. Some did express their disgust in writing. Others are phoning it in.
“We’re getting a steady stream of calls and notes on ballot envelopes,” Fell said. “If people feel a strong affinity for the Democratic or Republican party I encourage them to participate. If they do not, they can still vote for whoever they want for president in November.”
Then there are voters like Kathee Wagoner of Snohomish. The 67-year-old is really angry at having to pick a party. She said it’s no one’s business but hers. Nonetheless, she said she did check a box and cast a ballot because she wanted her vote to be counted, not discarded.
“The whole thing is a mess. There should be a box on the envelope to mark for independent,” she said. “I vote at every opportunity because I want a say-so to what’s going on in the country that I was born in.”
Ballots for the March 10 election may be deposited in one of the county’s drop boxes until 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you mail it back you do not need a stamp. It must be postmarked no later than March 10 to be counted.