Voting Map IDs No-Show Areas Analysis by S-R Reveals More Than 86,000 Nonvotes in Spokane County

By Camden, Jim | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), December 2, 2018 | Go to article overview

Voting Map IDs No-Show Areas Analysis by S-R Reveals More Than 86,000 Nonvotes in Spokane County


Camden, Jim, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Washington elections officials might be duly proud that the 2018 midterm had near-record voter turnout and more ballots cast than any other elections save the last two presidential contests.

Behind the positive news that nearly 72 percent of the voters cast some 3.1 million ballots, however, there's a negative: Almost 30 percent didn't vote, and more than 1 million ballots that were mailed out didn't come back.

In Spokane County, where turnout was almost 73 percent, more than 86,000 registered voters didn't cast their ballot.

This in a state that for years has worked to make it easier to register, by mail, online and in person. Washington arguably makes it easier to vote than any other state. Ballots are mailed three weeks before election day, and will be counted for weeks after, provided they have been postmarked by election day. Other all-mail states like Oregon require the ballots to be in hand on election night to be counted.

This year, Washington also covered the postage for returning ballots by mail, and required counties to install more drop boxes for voters who prefer not to mail them.

Just as voter participation varied across the county, nonparticipation by registered voters who didn't vote wasn't distributed evenly across the electorate. A computer analysis by The Spokesman-Review of Spokane County's final vote totals shows they varied widely, with some precincts having only dozens of ballots that weren't cast and others where hundreds never left the voter's home.

That analysis reveals a major hurdle for any Democrat seeking to capture Eastern Washington's 5th Congressional District seat, which has been held by Republicans for a quarter century. Spokane County is by far the most populous, and while a Republican can find enough votes in the surrounding counties to lose Spokane County by a small margin but still win the election, a Democrat probably can't.

Democratic challenger Lisa Brown won many precincts where nonparticipation was high, with 300 or more voters not sending back their ballots. As expected, she beat Republican incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the 3rd Legislative District, a historic Democratic stronghold. But the 3rd has about 20,000 fewer registered voters than the other two Spokane County-based districts. Turnout was about 5 percentage points lower than the county average and nearly 25,500 ballots that were mailed to registered voters in the 3rd District weren't sent back.

Some of the highest nonparticipation was in Spokane city precincts north of Interstate 90 between North Division Street and the city limits. West Central, East Central and the growing community at Kendall Yards also had high levels of nonparticipation compared with precincts outside the city.

McMorris Rodgers also carried some light voting precincts - including Fairchild Air Force Base, which has 792 registered voters but returned only 193 ballots - but did particularly well in rural areas where participation was high and she topped Brown by 200 or more votes.

Although the 86,000 uncast Spokane County ballots are greater than McMorris Rodgers' margin of victory in the entire district, there's no way to predict how nonparticipating voters would have marked their ballots. …

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