If past elections are a guide, late ballots in Seattle will come from substantially younger and more liberal voters. That swing may determine whether Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon wins the mayor’s race. Ballots in Washington state must be postmarked by Tuesday or placed in county dropboxes.
With fewer than half of King County voters expected to cast ballots in Tuesday’s election, turnout so far is lagging even that prediction.
As of Monday evening, 261,091 ballots had been returned — 20 percent of the county’s nearly 1.3 million registered voters.
“We are definitely below projections so far,” said Kendall Hodson, chief of staff for King County Elections, which had estimated countywide turnout would hit 48 percent.
But Hodson said a last-minute flood of votes — especially in new dropboxes positioned throughout the county — could boost the final totals.
One trend to watch: Later batches of votes have tended to trend more liberal and young, leading to swings of as much as 8 percentage points after Election Day.
Whether voters are tuned out or just procrastinating remains to be seen, with the answer potentially playing major roles in contests including Seattle’s mayoral race and a nationally watched Eastside legislative contest that likely will determine control of the state Senate.
Prodded by a record-setting $8.5 million in spending, turnout is running higher, at about 27 percent, in the 45th Legislative District state Senate race between Republican Jinyoung Englund and Democrat Manka Dhingra.
In Seattle — which as a result of Ed Murray’s resignation, is about to have its fourth mayor in a year — turnout has remained close to the county average, at 21 percent as of Monday. The average age of those early voters was about 56.
The average age of a registered voter in Seattle is 46.
If past elections are any guide, the late ballots in Seattle will come from a substantially younger and more liberal crowd. The size of that swing may determine whether former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan or former urban designer Cary Moon is sworn in as mayor later this month.
In recent years, elections have swung by several percentage points from election night to the final result once later-arriving mail ballots were tallied.
The most dramatic example was the 2013 City Council race in which challenger Kshama Sawant beat incumbent Richard Conlin.
On election night, Conlin had 53.6 percent to Sawant’s 46.1 percent. But Conlin’s lead dwindled and eventually vanished as Sawant took 54.6 percent of the votes counted after that, winning by more than 3,100 votes.
Similar trends have occurred in mayoral races. In 2013, then-incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn was down 13 percentage points to then-state Sen. Murray on election night. As the later votes were tabulated, McGinn did much better, and ended up losing by closer to 4 percentage points.
It’s difficult to predict how that will play out in the current mayoral race, where both Durkan and Moon identify as very liberal candidates, vocal in their denunciations of President Donald Trump, gun violence and skyrocketing rents.
Local political consultant Monisha Harrell said she’s not sure the Moon-Durkan race will see the same sort of late vote shift as previous elections.
“My sense is that we are not going to see a hard, late shift for either candidate. I don’t know if either candidate inspires enough people to make that last minute ‘Oh I forgot to vote!’ — that last-minute burst of action,” said Harrell, who is board chair for Equal Rights Washington, an LGBTQ advocacy group that has endorsed Durkan.
Still, some Durkan supporters have said in recent days they want to see her with a lead of 6 or more points on election night.
In the August primary, Durkan’s election-night share of the vote was double that of Moon’s. In subsequent counts, the race tightened as Moon and third-place candidate Nikkita Oliver made up ground. The average age for people whose ballots were received on or after primary-election day was 48, compared to 55 for voters before then.
While Washington is a vote-by-mail state, the use of dropboxes has been increasingly popular in King County.
The county has 55 dropboxes this year, up from 10 before 2016. In last fall’s election and in the August primary, about half the ballots in the county came in through the dropboxes.
“Voter behavior has shifted so much,” said Hodson, adding that some people may want to avoid buying stamps for ballots and others may be just waiting until the last minute and wanting to ensure their votes are counted.
To be counted, ballots must be postmarked or placed in dropboxes by 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voters can look up their closest dropbox at the King County Elections website. They can also call 206-296-8683.
This post has been updated to correct that Kshama Sawant’s win over Richard Conlin was in 2013.