Local Election

Campaigns work to boost anemic turnout

Political campaigns are knocking on the doors and calling the phones of hundreds of thousands of Washington voters trying to ensure supporters mail their ballots.

But few are participating — so far — in Washington’s first midterm election since 2002 that lacks a U.S. Senate race.

That election, back when many voters still had to go to a polling place, drew 56 percent turnout. Secretary of State Kim Wyman predicts it will be higher this year at 62 percent, thanks to the ease of casting a vote by mail and the high interest in some of the issues in play, including gun control.

But ballots arriving early were not on pace to make that mark.

“We’re a few percentage points below where we would hope to be right now,” state elections director Lori Augino said Friday. But with a large number of local decisions, some voters have a long ballot and might be waiting until the last minute, she said.

“I’m still optimistic that voters are going to find that ballot on their kitchen table and get it in before that deadline,” Augino said.

The state turnout tally stood at 24.4 percent Saturday, including 22.7 percent in King County, 21.8 percent in Pierce County and 23.4 percent in Thurston County, where officials said the pace was about what had been expected.

“They are trending the way we expected them to, and I think we’ll hit our projection of 52 to 55 percent,” Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall said Thursday.

Fewer people were voting in Pierce County than at the same point in 2006, 2008, 2010 or 2012.

Pierce County elections manager Mike Rooney predicted the bulk of ballots would arrive Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, making early conclusions tough to draw. But he expected just more than half of registered county voters to participate, 51 percent to 52 percent.

A slew of campaigns were trying to boost those numbers among their own partisans and supporters.

Supporters of the ballot measure to require universal background checks on gun sales reported making 500,000 phone calls or door-to-door visits. A last-minute Seattle concert and rally and visits to the state from shooting victims and their families kept attention on Initiative 594 in the city with the most voters.

Last-minute appeals often paint various frightening scenarios about the stakes.

Abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Washington was focusing its final push on female voters in two districts in Pierce and South King counties — sending more than 54,000 pieces of mail slamming two Republican Senate candidates over abortion and birth control.

“It’s important that we expose Mark Miloscia and Steve O’Ban’s extreme and out-of-touch views on women’s health,” Tiffany Hankins, the group’s organizing and political director, said in a statement. “Voters in the 28th and 30th district(s) care deeply about reproductive rights and we are ensuring they have all the facts before Election Day.”

Former Federal Way Rep. Miloscia has said he opposes abortion rights, but not birth control. (He did back a proposal to declare that life begins at fertilization of an egg.) Tacoma Sen. O’Ban has declined to discuss his views on those subjects.

As they try to keep control of the Senate, Republicans ran radio and cable advertisements featuring state party chairwoman Susan Hutchison in targeted districts and on social media.

“Do you want a state income tax? No? Then this year you’ve got to vote Republican,” Hutchison says in the ad. “Do you want the price of gas to go up a dollar a gallon? No? This year you’ve got to vote Republican. Do you want out-of-state billionaires to buy our elections? No? This year you’ve got to vote Republican.”

The dollar-per-gallon claim is based on a disputed study of potential effects of a hypothetical requirement for greener fuel. Tom Steyer, a California environmentalist and billionaire, is the biggest donor among many out-of-state interests flooding key districts whose Senate seats are up for grabs.

As usual, campaigns will bug voters until their ballots are recorded as received by elections officials. Constant reminders are key.

“You may hate wearing your seat belt,” said Adam Bartz, who runs the Senate Democrats’ campaign operation, “but you hate that chiming bell.”