Washington’s general Election Day used to be just that, a single day in November. Today, it’s an election season of nearly three weeks — and the 2013 edition gets underway this week.
Starting Wednesday, Oct. 16, ballots are being mailed to over 3.9 million registered voters — a near-record. Voters may fill out their ballots right away or hold off awhile. Although election officials recommend returning ballots promptly, the voter does face a Nov. 5 deadline to have their ballot postmarked or, alternatively, return it to an official drop box by 8 p.m.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman is forecasting 51 percent voter participation, about average for an off-year election. That would be nearly double the August primary turnout of 26 percent, but well below the 81 percent last year for a ballot that included the White House race, governor and three other wide-open statewide elective offices, gay marriage and marijuana legalization, all 10 congressional seats and most of the Legislature, and judicial races.
Wyman said the election still has plenty to offer a voter, including:
- Statewide ballot measures, including the closely watched, high-spending I-522 battle over labeling of genetically engineered foods; and I-517, brought forward by initiative activist Tim Eyman, dealing with the initiative process itself. Under provisions of a previous Eyman initiative passed by the voters, there will also be five non-binding tax advisory votes for people to express their support or opposition to revenue measures approved earlier this year by the Legislature. The measures will be numbered 3 through 7. Where are No. 1 and 2? Voters acted on those last year.
- Three special state Senate races, including a pivotal 26th District clash between appointed Democratic Sen. Nathan Schlicher and his GOP challenger, state Rep. Jan Angel. The other two races, in the 7th and 8th districts in Eastern Washington, also have an interesting twist: each features two Republicans. The state’s Top 2 Primary sends the two biggest vote-getters to the General Election ballot without regard to party preference. Although there has never been a one-party final election for statewide or congressional office, it is sometimes seen in essentially one-party legislative districts.
- Local races and measures. A variety of local contests also add interest to the ballot. The state Senate’s Democratic leader, Ed Murray, emerged first in a crowded primary to take on one-term incumbent Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. If elected, Murray would be the first openly gay mayor of the Northwest’s largest city. He was architect of the state gay-marriage law ratified by the voters last fall. King County Executive Dow Constantine is running for re-election. Thurston County Auditor Gary Alexander, the senior GOP budgetwriter in the Legislature and Wyman’s appointed successor at the courthouse, is running for the remainder of the term. Dozens of other local government races also dot the ballot, including school boards, ports, city and county councils, mayors, and fire, water and sewer districts. Bonds and levies are on the ballot, and in a nationally-watched election in SeaTac, voters are asked whether to boost the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“The hyper-local races are incredibly important to citizens, from ports to parks,” said state Elections Director Lori Augino. “I urge voters to take part in this election, to do their homework and then vote their ballot without waiting until Election Day.”