Editorial: Too many could throw their vote away today

There’s too much at stake — in particular I-976 — to be left to just a third of voters in the county.

By The Herald Editorial Board

No doubt you’ve seen plenty of polls already for next year’s presidential election, all prefaced with the words, “if the election were held today.”

Of course, that election isn’t being held today. But there is an election today. Yet too many voters in Snohomish County and the state may be planning to sit this one out.

As of Monday morning, the day before Election Day, a little less than 16 percent of registered voters in Snohomish County — 75,813 of 476,073 who were sent ballots — had returned those ballots by mail or ballot drop boxes.

While a number of voters wait for the day of the election to fill out and send in their ballots, Monday’s number was distressing for County Auditor Carolyn Weikel.

Comparing ballot return figures from past off-year elections — where the election is focused on local issues rather than on national and state offices — projections from the elections office estimate a final ballot return figure of about 30 percent, Weikel said.

“I don’t want to believe that we’re only going to get to 30 percent turnout,” said Weikel, now in the final year of her tenure as head of the office that she’s lead since 2007.

Even as Snohomish County has increased the number of people registered to vote — a nearly 12 percent increase from about 418,000 in 2013 to more than 476,000 for this election — off-year voter turnout has dropped from 41 percent in 2013 to 35 percent in 2015 and less than 33 percent in 2017. Eight years ago, turnout in the county was 52 percent.

Granted, presidential election years and years with state-level elections do see better return rates; 79 percent in 2016 and 70 percent in 2018. But too many — more than two-thirds if the projections hold — may count themselves out of consequential issues on this election’s ballot.

We’ve made the point before that many local elections for public office, including those for city and county leaders, school boards and the like, often have more direct influence on daily lives than national races.

Other ballot issues don’t.

Weikel and others wonder if the ballot’s 12 advisory votes to the Legislature aren’t discouraging some voters who — opening their ballots to find one side filled with questions regarding bills approved this year by state lawmakers — feel overwhelmed and just set the ballots aside. It’s not as much small print as an Apple iTunes user agreement, but the eyes do glaze over.

Our advice: Disregard these particular advisory votes; each of these measures — Nos. 20 through 31 — will not actually repeal or maintain the particular legislation referenced, and are no more significant nor useful than opinion polls. Skip ‘em.

However, your vote is needed, especially regarding Initiative 976.

Unless you’ve turned off your TV and shut down you social media feed, you should be familiar with the choice offered by I-976: a chance to cut your vehicle license tab fees to $30 but at the cost of drastic and debilitating losses to local and state transportation funding. (I-976 gets a big honking no from us, by the way.)

Not to nag, but ask yourself: Are jammed highways, potholed roads, lost jobs and a hobbled economy issues that two-thirds of you really don’t consider important enough to bother with?

That itself should be enough motivation for registered voters to mark their ballots and get them to a drop box or the post office. Because, this election is being held today.

Ballot deadline

Ballots must be returned to county drop boxes by 8 tonight or mailed and postmarked with today’s date. For a list of drop box locations go to tinyurl.com/SnoCoElexBallotDropBox. Ballots returned by mail do not need postage.

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