“It is unacceptable that only 22% of registered voters turned out in the August primary, and Deputy Director Julie Wise doesn't want to take responsibility for the new record low,” said Representative Zack Hudgins. He called on the King County Elections Office to take responsibility and stop the downward slide in voter turnout. “Our democracy is at risk when the current leadership won't take responsibility and help people vote,” said Hudgins who is running for Director of King County Elections. “It is unacceptable that the one office we trust with one thing - elections thinks it isn't their responsibility.”
Hudgins was referring to remarks made at a joint appearance of the candidates running for Director of Elections on the November ballot at the monthly meeting of the 48th Legislative District Republicans. The Deputy Director of the office, Julie Wise, said, “I would disagree that it's necessarily the responsibility and primary focus of the Director of Elections to be um pushing people into voting.”
“I think the Director should take responsibility for something as easy to measure as turnout, and can do it without pushing people into voting,” said Hudgins.
Certification of the August 4th Primary shows that voter participation has plummeted to a new record low. According to official King County Elections (KCE) documents, only 24.4% of active voters in King County cast their ballots.
Voter turnout drops to 22.4% when inactive voters, voters who have had their ballots returned to KCE as undeliverable, are included in the count. There are over 100,000 people who are eligible and registered to vote in King County who do not receive mailed ballots due to database management problems.
When King County voters created accountability in the Elections Office by passing a charter amendment to elect the Director, many thought the single focus of the office would improve overall turnout in elections. The opposite has happened.
Voter registration rates have also fallen, leaving tens of thousands of eligible voters off the rolls who would be registered if King County Elections had maintained its year 2000 rate.
“Record low turnout in this year's primary is just another data point in a downward trend that is undermining our democracy,” said Hudgins. “It shouldn’t be this bad, the office should be working to stimulate voter turnout, not standing on the sidelines, not shirking responsibility. Something as simple as listening to voters' requests for more permanent ballot boxes could help. We can do better.”
In addition to lower registration rates, lower turnout and increased inactive voters, Hudgins also mentioned a lack of ballot boxes and the failure to count over 32,000 ballots in 2014 as other problems in the Department of Elections.
With the exception of the 2012 elections, turnout has been down in all comparable elections – on year and off year since 2009, under the current leadership of the office. The primary turnout in 2009 was 31.60%, 2011 was 30.91%, 2013 was 28.64%. The turnout in general elections in 2009 was 53.19%, 2011 was 52.12%, 2013 was 46.91%. The turnout in the primary in 2010 was 37.82%, 2012 was 38.92%, and 2014 was 29.32%. The general turnout in 2010 was 71.65%, 2012 was 83.59%, and 2014 was 53.43%. All numbers are active voters and are taken from the King County Elections 2014 annual report.