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Published: Monday, August 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Ballot returns sluggish for Tuesday's primary

EVERETT -- Snohomish County voters are in no hurry to cast ballots in this Tuesday's primary and most of them probably won't do so at all.
With the generally docile election entering its final hours, county officials are hoping turnout winds up around 30 percent, which is roughly the average for odd-year primaries since 2001.
County Auditor Carolyn Weikel isn't predicting it will reach that plateau after seeing only 12.5 percent of the voters had returned their ballots as of Friday morning.
"I'm not going to even put a number on it," she said. "It is disappointingly low."
Historically, Snohomish County voters are disinterested in off-year primaries. Two years ago, only 25.8 percent took part when the contest for county executive headed the ballot. In 2009, without such a high profile race, the turnout was 24.6 percent.
Turnout last broke 30 percent a decade ago when the ballot featured a multi-candidate elimination fight for what was then an open county executive seat.
The experience in Snohomish County is not unique as many counties reported turnout figures in the teens on Friday.
Those low numbers vex people like Weikel and Lori Augino, Washington's director of elections, because what are at stake are critically important seats on school boards, fire districts and city and county councils.
"These are some of the most important elections people can vote on," Augino said. "These are the folks who are passing laws that impact you every day."
Voters, Weikel said, aren't making the connection between their lives and the decisions they get to make in this election. Unless and until they do, they are not likely to become regular primary voters, she said.
She suggested beefing up the teaching of civics in schools and talking about it in the community could, over time, help strengthen that connection.
Right now, it's clear voters aren't excited by what they see on their ballots, especially when they may see only one contest or measure.
"These hyperlocal off-year primaries are very much driven by what's on the ballot," Augino said.
Another possible turn-off is the timing -- it is coming in the middle of summer. This will be the earliest date ever for an off-year primary -- excluding presidential preference primaries.
Washington used to hold its primary in September. In 2007, it moved it up to third week of August to give county election staffs more time to certify results, resolve issues including recounts and get general election ballots out to voters living or serving in the military overseas.
Two years ago, lawmakers moved it again, to the first Tuesday in August. Weikel said that came about because of a federal requirement to make sure ballots bound for overseas voters are in the mail 45 days before the general election.
Weikel and Augino said the date isn't the problem but changing it so often could be a confusing factor.
"People lose track in their minds of when the primary is held," Weikel said. "If we left it alone for a couple of years, people can get used to it."
But she insisted the date isn't the problem, only a symptom.
"I think we've made voting as easy as we can make it by sending them a ballot to their home," she said. "What we have to do is figure out how to help them make the connection between their lives and these local elections."
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.
Voter turnout in primaries in Snohomish County 2001-present
2001 -- 31.6 percent
2002 -- 34.7 percent
2003 -- 30.1 percent
2004 -- 45.4 percent
2005 -- 27.4 percent
2006 -- 38.6 percent
2007 -- 28.1 percent
2008 -- 42.4 percent
2009 -- 24.6 percent
2010 -- 38.6 percent
2011 -- 25.8 percent
2012 -- 35.5 percent
Source: Snohomish County Auditor's Office
Voters may return their voted ballot postage free to any one of eleven 24-hour ballot drop box locations in Snohomish County until 8 p.m. on Election Day
Ballots can also be dropped off at the County Auditor's office, on the first floor of the Snohomish County Administration Building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett. Voters may drop their voted ballots off until 5 p.m. today. The office will have extended hours on Election Day, 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Drop-boxes are at:
Arlington (near library), 135 N. Washington Ave.
Edmonds (near library), 650 Main St.
Everett (Courthouse Campus), Rockefeller Avenue and Wall Street.
Everett (at McCollum Park), 600 128th St. SE.
Lake Stevens (near the city boat launch), 1800 Main St.
Lynnwood (in front of City Hall), 19100 44th Ave.
Marysville (behind Municipal Court), 1015 State Ave.
Monroe (near library), 1070 Village Way.
Mukilteo (near library), 4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd.
Snohomish (near library), 311 Maple Ave.
Stanwood (near library), 9701 271st St. NW.
More info: www.snoco.org/elections or call 425-388-3444.

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