Issaquah election results offer clues to November

September 18, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

King County is a hard-fought battleground in the race for governor, and the August primary election results for Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna confirm Issaquah is closely divided, too.

Only 150 votes separated McKenna from Inslee among Issaquah voters last month. In 2004, for comparison, 133 votes statewide decided the contest between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi.

The information comes from a detailed analysis of precinct results in the Aug. 7 election. Elsewhere on the ballot, Issaquah voters endorsed incumbents, and rejected past and present state legislators’ bids for higher office.

The neighborhood-level data illustrates how the Issaquah electorate selected candidates — and offers clues to local general election results in November.

Issaquah is home to 16,992 registered voters. The city is divided into 31 precincts.

Though results in Issaquah sometimes reflect broader trends, city voters occasionally select a different route.

The race for the 8th Congressional District seat, for instance, is often much closer in Issaquah than elsewhere in the district.

Issaquah Democrat Karen Porterfield fell 399 votes shy of incumbent Republican Dave Reichert among city voters.

In 2010, Democrat Suzan DelBene outpolled Reichert by 742 votes in Issaquah, and lost the race to Reichert, a former King County sheriff and Auburn Republican. (DelBene is again a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the redrawn 1st Congressional District.)

Issaquah did not provide a home-field advantage to local candidates in races for higher office.

State Rep. Glenn Anderson, a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, and former state Sen. Kathleen Drew, a Democrat in the race for secretary of state, did not carry the 5th Legislative District.

Though Anderson and Drew represented the district, voters overwhelmingly chose other candidates.

Voter education is priority

King County Elections issued more than 1.1 million 18-inch ballots for the August primary, and voters returned fewer than half.

Despite a crowded ballot and intense interest in the gubernatorial contest, turnout in King County topped out at about 40 percent — below the 52 percent turnout forecast before the all-mail election.

The turnout figure disappointed King County Elections Director Sherril Huff.

Like the top elections official in Washington, Secretary of State Sam Reed, Huff attributed the anemic figure to the earlier primary date.

“I believe very, very strongly and many of my colleagues do as well, that the best solution is moving the primary to May or early June,” she said in a Sept. 14 interview.

State legislators do not relish the idea of shifting the primary to late spring, because state law bans fundraising by incumbents during legislative sessions, plus 30 days before a regular session.

The change could leave lawmakers less time to raise money for re-election campaigns.

Despite the less-than-projected turnout in the primary, Huff said the office received positive feedback about a regional voter education and outreach campaign starring local celebrities, such as renowned chef Tom Douglas, travel guru Rick Steves and others.

Still, education remains a daunting task for elections officials as November approaches. King County switched to all-mail elections in 2009 and, despite intense contests for other offices since then, some voters only participate in presidential contests.

“The reality for this election is that there are, unfortunately, far too many people who only vote in presidential year elections, so there will still be voters in this election who have not voted by mail yet in a large election,” Huff said.

Recent history is often the most effective motivator for infrequent voters. The 2004 contest for governor remains a frequently cited example.

“The most valuable tool that we have is the demonstration in the past few years with races that have been incredibly close,” Huff said. “Better than anything else, that demonstrates the importance of a single vote.”

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