Puget Sound voters had information edge in August primary

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by ROBERT MAK / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 5:17 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 16 at 5:32 PM

Voters in parts of Washington -- especially counties east of the Cascades -- complain they lacked enough information about candidates and issues when they filled out ballots for the state's August 7 primary election.

Only eight counties published a voter guide for the primary. Of those eight, just four included statewide races in their pamphlet.

That means voters in Central Puget Sound had more information in their mailboxes than voters in the rest of the state, including all of eastern Washington.

Clyde Ballard, a Chelan County resident and former speaker of Washington's state House, said the August primary ballot was a challenge for him.

"Without a doubt that was the most confusing ballot, with all the names. I had no idea where they were. And I'm still tuned in somewhat and I thought, 'How in the world is anyone supposed to know how to vote?'"

Tight budgets are to blame. "We just can't afford it," said Chelan County auditor Skip Moore.

The state prints a voter guide for the general election, but leaves primary elections up to the counties.

Printing and mailing guides to every voter would cost the county about $40,000, Moore said.

The presence or lack of a voter guide does seem to affect voting rates on down-ballot races.

Of all the voters who returned ballots in King County for the August primary, 96 percent voted in the race for governor, about the same as the returns in Chelan County.

But in the race for state Insurance Commissioner, 90 percent of King County ballots recorded a vote, compared with only 83 percent in Chelan County

Further down the ballot, in the Position 8 state Supreme Court race, 78 percent of King County ballots included a vote. But in Chelan County, only 69 percent weighed in.

Ballard said he is pretty sure he knows why:

"It really gives King Snohomish and Pierce County another advantage beside being the most populous place in the state, and that is they [voters there] know exactly the information that is available."

Some counties in eastern Washington actually have higher turnout than King County. But if their voters are leaving more races blank, that could tip a close election.

And that raises the issue of fairness, given that eastern Washington voters tend to be more conservative than Puget Sound voters.

Although many counties that don't mail voter guides do post them online, quite a few people living in rural areas don't have access to the Internet.

Secretary of State Sam Reed said he would like to see the state publish a primary guide, just as it does in the general election. But that would cost about $1 million.

Online resources:

Full list of direct links to county elections websites are available on the Secretary of State's website.

www.sos.wa.gov/elections/auditors.aspx

King County Elections  www.kingcounty.gov/elections.aspx

Kitsap County Elections www.kitsapgov.com/aud/elections.htm

Pierce County Elections  www.co.pierce.wa.us/pc/abtus/ourorg/aud/elections/main.htm

Snohomish County Elections www1.co.snohomish.wa.us/Departments/Auditor/Divisions/Elections_Voting/

Thurston County Elections  http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/auditor/elections/electns.htm
 

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