Less than 3 in 10 Washingtonians bothered to vote in this week's primary election despite critical races on the ballot. Voters must do better in the Nov. 6 general election.

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Despite all the chatter about politics nowadays, and free postage on ballots, fewer than three in 10 Washingtonians cared enough about their government to vote in this week’s primary election.

Mailed ballots are still trickling in, but statewide turnout is an atrocious 28 percent. More than two-thirds of registered voters declined to choose finalists for one of two U.S. Senate seats and 10 seats the state has in the House of Representatives.

Except in Garfield County, where voters are showing the rest of Washington how it’s done. In the scenic county south of the Snake River between Walla Walla and Pullman, turnout is so far 66 percent. That means two-thirds of registered voters there are engaged and fulfilling their civic duty.

What’s the secret to getting such high participation in democracy?

Donna Deal, Garfield County’s longtime auditor and elections director, said it helps to be in a small community. With just 1,591 registered voters, it’s relatively easy for her office to keep voter rolls clean, ensuring that addresses are correct and changes are made when someone moves or passes away.

There’s also a concerted effort by her office and schools to encourage voting.

“We have a good core group of voters who start voting when they’re 18 and vote their whole lives,” she said from her office in Pomeroy.

They’re apparently not driven by a blue wave or a red one.  Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has 70 percent to Democrat Lisa Brown’s 24 percent, while Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell leads Republican Susan Hutchison 36 percent to 29 percent in Garfield County.

Deal, a Democrat, said there’s a bit of competition between Garfield and neighboring Columbia County to post the state’s best turnout. Columbia was trailing but still with an impressive 55 percent as of Thursday morning.

Garfield also has local election issues that pique voters’ interest, Deal said, including a neck-and-neck sheriff’s race. Last year Sheriff Drew Hyer beat Chief Deputy Steve Krouse by a few votes after a recount. In this week’s primary, Hyer is ahead of Krouse 541-478.

Margins could be just as close in critical federal races on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. At stake is the balance of power in Congress and the state Legislature, along with initiatives on issues such as carbon taxes and gun control.

Take a cue from the good people of Garfield County.

Mark the calendar, learn about the candidates and issues, and vote in November.