If the prediction holds, voter participation statewide would surpass the 1970 record of 72 percent, set amid the Vietnam War and presidency of Richard Nixon. That's in line with a national trend of high interest in an election seen in large part as a referendum on President Trump.
Animated by President Trump, high-profile congressional races and initiatives on guns, climate change and police shootings, Washington voters are mailing in ballots at a pace that may break a turnout record for a midterm election.
As of Monday, elections officials had received ballots from more than 40 percent of the state’s 4.3 million registered voters, according to Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office.
With the largest deliveries of ballots typically arriving in the days just before and after Election Day, Tuesday, turnout looks like it will reach the mid- to high 70s, said Wyman, a Republican. “That’s pretty amazing for a midterm,” she said.
If the prediction holds, voter participation would surpass the 1970 record of 72 percent, set amid the Vietnam War and presidency of Richard Nixon. That’s in line with a national trend of high interest in an election seen in large part as a referendum on Trump.
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In King County, nearly half of voters had returned ballots by Monday morning, a larger chunk than received before Election Day during midterms in 2014 and 2010.
“We’re definitely much closer to a presidential year than we are to a midterm,” said Kendall Hodson, chief of staff at King County Elections.
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The 8th Congressional District race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, was drawing particular interest, with turnout running a couple of percentage points higher in parts of King County included in the district.
With more than $28 million spent, the contest between pediatrician Kim Schrier, a Democrat and first-time candidate, and Dino Rossi, the former Republican state senator and three-time unsuccessful candidate for statewide office, is the costliest U.S. House race in state history.
Early turnout was even higher in Spokane County, where more than half of ballots were in as of Monday morning, driven in part by the re-election fight in the 5th Congressional District between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking House Republican, and Democratic challenger Lisa Brown, a former state Senate majority leader.
Wyman attributed the high interest in the election in part to the national media coverage of Trump and the battle for control of Congress. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take a majority in the U.S. House, and a trio of races here could be decisive.
“Certainly we have three really hot congressional races,” Wyman said, referring to the 8th and 5th District races, as well as southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District matchup between Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, and Democratic challenger Carolyn Long.
The feverish interest in the election makes it difficult to tell whether turnout is being driven any higher by the prepaid postage for all ballots, Wyman said.
It also remains to be seen whether Republicans or Democrats benefit from the potential record voter participation.
Leaders of both parties said they’re seeing a surge of enthusiasm reflected in their voters and volunteers as the election draws to a close on Tuesday.
“I think we’ve gone through the roof with our organizing efforts. We can’t answer the phones fast enough for volunteers who want to come and do this work,” said Tina Podlodowski, chair of the state Democratic Party. She said party volunteers have hit 1.6 million phone calls and doors knocked, higher than the numbers for the 2016 presidential election.
Podlodowski said health care remains the No. 1 issue on voters’ minds, with President Trump serving as “the loud, annoying voice in the background for many people.” She said the GOP can’t divorce itself from the “racism, homophobia and fearmongering” of the president.
Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the state Republican Party, said his party’s voters also have been energized, particularly by the effort to maintain GOP control of Congress.
“Folks don’t want to see them lose and want to make sure they’re continuing the positive momentum in the economy at the national level,” he said.
Heimlich said conservative and moderate-leaning voters also are motivated by opposition to initiatives that would raise gas prices through a new carbon tax and place additional restrictions on gun owners.
In addition to the congressional races, Democrats are looking to substantially increase their majorities in the state Capitol, where they hold the governorship, as well as a two-seat majority in the state House and a one-seat majority in the state Senate.
A wider majority could allow Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic legislative leaders to pursue an ambitious agenda including an expansion of government-funded health care, a tax on capital-gains income, and new environmental protections.
But Heimlich said Republicans have been heartened to see turnout in the general election trending better for the party than in the August primary, which saw lackluster numbers for the GOP in legislative districts across the state.
“I am very optimistic we are not going to see catastrophic losses,” Heimlich said.
Washington state’s vote-by-mail election allows all votes to be counted so long as they are postmarked by Election Day. Alternately, voters can place ballots in drop boxes by 8 p.m. on Tuesday. A searchable map and list of drop boxes in King County can be found at the website of King County Elections.