Voters apparently still dislike picking a party

What if they held an election and nobody came?

You’d have a turnout that’s not much lower than it was for this year’s primary.

Turnout for odd-year primaries is traditionally low — quite a perversity, given the impact the local races on odd-year ballots have on voters’ daily lives. But election officials throughout the state expected some improvement this time around, especially in all-mail counties like Snohomish, where every registered voter had a ballot delivered to them.

It didn’t happen. Despite the fact that each of Snohomish County’s nearly 340,000 registered voters received a ballot in the mail, only about 92,500 had been returned as of Wednesday — an anemic 28 percent. Nearly three-quarters of the county’s registered voters apparently were content to let someone else decide who would vie in November for some very important local offices.

Why? Judging from our inbox over the past couple of years, many independent voters remain angry over having to stick to one party’s ballot in partisan races. A good number of them may be opting out in protest.

This isn’t the system Washington voters want. Ever since the state’s blanket primary — where voters could pick a Democrat in one race, a Republican in another — was declared unconstitutional in 2003, they’ve been complaining, often bitterly. After then-Gov. Gary Locke used a creative veto to put the pick-a-party primary in place, voters registered their displeasure by passing Initiative 872, under which the top two vote-getters in a primary race advance, regardless of party.

Even though such a system was suggested as a constitutional alternative to the old blanket primary by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a circuit court threw it out, leaving us with the current format. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal; Attorney General Rob McKenna is scheduled to argue for the reinstatement of I-872 before the high court on the opening day of its session, Oct. 1.

We wish him luck.

If he loses, the parties may feel empowered to pursue their next logical goal: forcing voters to declare a party affiliation when they register. That would hand party leaders an invaluable database of potential supporters to beset with campaign mailings and solitications for cash.

If McKenna wins, it will be a victory for independent voters as well as those who may lean toward one party but sometimes identify more closely with a candidate from another.

It will also, we’d bet, induce a lot more folks to vote in the primary.

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