Voter turnout in odd-numbered years always runs lower than even numbered years. That’s because presidential, federal and statewide elections occur during the even years, accompanied by greater hype and campaign spending.
But municipal elections, which occur during odd-numbered years, have a greater impact on the daily lives of Thurston County voters, from the quality of roads we drive, to the books kids read in schools and the time it takes for first responders to reach our homes or businesses.
For that reason, this year’s voter turnout was disappointing. At 44.1 percent, it marks the lowest turnout in decade. In 2003, just 39.29 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, but beating that number is no cause to celebrate.
Consider the number of eligible voters who don’t bother to register, and the real turnout is probably another 15 points or more lower.
It gets worse when upon examination of individual races. For example, only 35.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the only contested Port of Olympia Commissioner race. The winner, Sue Gunn, claimed victory with support from only 18.5 percent of registered voters.
We get it. Races for fire commissions or school boards aren’t sexy. Countywide offices such as auditor and port commissioner seem obscure. City council races generate a slightly bigger buzz, sometimes, but not enough to stuff the ballot box.
But when fewer than half of registered voters participate, a small – sometimes tiny –minority of people will determine the outcome. In Commissioner-elect Gunn’s case, fewer than two of 10 registered voters actually voted for her, and an even smaller number of eligible voters.
Still, these are important decisions, and voting remains the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. The majority, no matter how small, has its way.
But why give such disproportionate local political power to a minority of eligible voters? If we expect responsible government, we need to be responsible participants.
And that means registering to vote and actually voting in all elections.