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Washington mid-term elections poised for high voter turnout

Election officials have seen an uptick in voter turnout compared to last mid-term elections thanks to a hot-ticket ballot and pre-paid postage.

With a contentious 8th Congressional District race and several hot-button initiatives on the November ballot, voter turnout is poised to be higher than the last mid-term elections.

King County Elections said Wednesday it is seeing double the ballot returns at this point in the elections compared to 2014. King County had collected 212,728 ballots at this point in 2014. This year it has collected 411,360 ballots.

That translates to about 26.6 percent turnout so far in the 2018 races. King County is projecting about a 60 percent turnout, according to King County Elections spokesperson Kafia Hosh.

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It’s a similar story across other Western Washington counties.

Six days out from the 2018 election, Pierce County had received 131,702 ballots (26.4 percent turnout), compared to 2014 where it had gotten 76,935 ballots at the same point.

Pierce County also projects 60 percent turnout, which recently increased from a previous projection of 56 percent, according to Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson.

In Snohomish County, 100,752 ballots have been returned (21.5 percent turnout). The county is projecting 70-75 percent turnout, compared to 51 percent in 2014 and 72 percent in 2010 during President Barack Obama's first term.

"Voters are more engaged this election than in last year's election or even the 2014 mid-term as we have seen in more phone calls, emails and new registrations," Snohomish Elections Manager Garth Fell said in an email. "But it is still below the level of interested we would see in a presidential election."

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High-stakes races could be one factor driving the interest.

The 8th Congressional District race, which covers parts of King, Pierce, Kittitas, and Chelan counties, has become one of the most competitive in the state. Democrat Kim Schrier and Republican Dino Rossi are battling for an open seat left by retiring Rep. Dave Reichert. Democrats are eager to flip the seat, which has remained Republican since the district’s inception but voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. It’s also become one of the costliest U.S. House races in the country, topping $25.6 million in spending.

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Several big statewide initiatives are also on the ballot, including Initiative 1639, which is the most sweeping piece of gun safety legislation put before voters in recent history, and Initiative 940, which would overhaul Washington state’s controversial law on police shootings to lower the bar for prosecuting police who use deadly force.

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King County Elections has seen increased voter interest in this election, receiving 100-400 emails and about 1,000 phone calls per day, according to Hosh.

Election officials also attribute pre-paid postage to higher turnout. This is the first general election where Washingtonians can drop their ballots in the mail without postage, allowing voters to forgo a stamp or a trip to the ballot drop box.