Midterm elections often draw more voters than off-year elections, but 2018 is seeing many more voter registering online than in 2014.
A stacked local ballot and national political intrigue — and maybe an Instagram post from one of the world’s most popular pop stars — are the likely drivers behind an increase in voter registrations across the state and in King County for this year’s midterm elections.
King County Elections Director Julie Wise said her team has been working through weekends because of the volume of questions and requests from voters and potential voters for the first midterm since 2014. “This is busy,” she said. “There is a lot of buzz and energy. It feels more buzzy than 2014.”
If voter registration is an indicator of voter interest, then turnout this year could outstrip that of the midterm election four years ago. In the year leading up to the 2014 midterms, 201,949 people registered statewide. So far this year, the state has seen 258,219 voters register. King County registration jumped by nearly half — from 61,191 in 2014 to 91,239 new voters through the past 12 months.
Officials expect those numbers will grow slightly as the county and state process late registrations and tally those who register in person, which can be done through Oct. 29. King County reported that almost 1,000 people a day have registered every day since Oct. 1, with about 6,000 on Oct. 8, the last day for online registration.
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It did not go unnoticed in election circles that was the day after pop diva Taylor Swift urged her followers to vote and endorsed a pair of Democratic candidates in Tennessee.
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Washington’s elections officials wouldn’t say, but didn’t dismiss, that Swift’s endorsement of voting drove people to registration.
According to Vote.org, which works to register voters across the nation, as of Friday 434,763 people have registered through the site since Swift’s post. During that same time period in 2016 405,149 had registered. In 2016 41 percent of the newly registered were younger than 30. That number jumped to 65 percent for this year’s election.
Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman said things happening nationally, like the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, also raise the interest level.
King County has an advertising campaign and a partnership with the Seattle Foundation called the Voter Education Fund. The county and the Seattle Foundation use the fund to provide grants between $10,000 to $25,000 to 33 community-based organizations to get people registered and to familiarize voters with candidates and issues on the ballot.
This is the first general election in which all the state’s 39 counties will use prepaid postage on ballot return envelopes. Wise, in King County, said that the number of ballots returned by mail usually hovers around 50 percent, but that number climbed to nearly 70 percent for the August primary. She isn’t sure how that will look for the Nov. 6 general election, but she is expecting to see voter turnout at about 60 percent. Wise urges voters to have their ballots in the mail no later than Nov. 2, the Friday before the election.
Wyman said her office is still crunching the numbers from the primary, but more people did mail in their ballots, and voter participation increased in 12 counties. She said those counties all had hot local issues coupled with competitive congressional races on the ballot. “Turnout is driven by how much candidates fire up voters,” Wyman said.
The Legislature passed a battery of bills last session with the goal of increasing voter turnout. The laws, which don’t go into effect until next year, will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister and will allow in-person registration until 8 p.m. election night at either the county elections office or the county auditor’s office. The laws would also automatically register residents who are qualified to vote when they get an enhanced driver’s license.