EVERETT — Snohomish County voters participated in this month’s midterm election at a near record level.
Turnout will reach 70.6 percent once the last dozen or so ballots are tallied Monday, the third-highest rate in a non-presidential election in county history.
The best ever, 72.5 percent, occurred in 1934, midway through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term. In 2010, halfway through the first term of President Barack Obama, turnout reached 71.7.
“We are very pleased with the number of people that chose to vote this election,” emailed county elections manager Garth Fell. “The parties were motivated, candidates were actively campaigning and voters responded.”
The final figure is about what he and Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel anticipated when ballots went out in late October. However, at one point, with ballots getting returned at a much faster clip than 2010, it seemed a new record for turnout might get set.
What happened is a lot of regular voters decided to get their ballots in sooner rather than wait until Election Day to do so, Fell said.
“The result was an early push that suggested a stronger overall turnout than we ultimately saw — though 71 percent is still a terrific midterm,” he said.
Not having to pay postage on ballots returned by mail didn’t seem to move the dial much on participation in the county. Rather, many voters decided to put their ballot in a mailbox instead of using a designated drop box as they might have in the past.
“It’s hard to say that postage had any significant impact on turnout,” Fell said. “What we heard from many voters was they appreciate not having to pay for postage.”
It’s too soon to know whether voter behavior will change in the long term, he said.
“My hunch is that in lower turnout elections more voters will return their ballot by mail and in higher turnout elections voters will seek out a drop box,” he said. “The drop boxes will continue to be the most reliable Election Day return method to ensure your ballot will be received on time.”
Voter behavior did change in one notable way: Fewer ballots got mailed back late.
In the primary, 2,155 ballots in Snohomish County were rejected because they arrived with a postmark that was later than Election Day. In the general election, the number dropped to 1,101, according to Fell.
In the meantime, state lawmakers will likely be considering whether paid postage will be continued. If so, counties are going to want to be fully reimbursed for their costs.
Election results are certified by each county Tuesday. The secretary of state certifies final results Friday.