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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Voter Turnout Appears At 36-Year Low

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Washington Secretary of State's Office

Voter turnout in Washington state was not just low this year -- it could be a 36-year low.

Not since 1978 has such a small percentage of registered voters participated in a Washington election. That was the year Washington voters approved a ban on mandatory busing. Just 52 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

Turnout this year is on track to beat that -- barely -- at 54 percent. That’s eight points lower than Secretary of State Kim Wyman projected back in September.

One factor that might explain the paltry turnout in Washington was the lack of a statewide race like governor or senator.

“We knew that turnout definitely was going to be a factor,” said Shannon Murphy, who leads Washington Conservation Voters. Her group knocked on 90,000 doors to get-out-the-vote on behalf of Democratic candidates in three key state Senate districts. All three of those candidates lost.

“It definitely is a disappointment, but our movement that we are building is bigger than one election,” Murphy said.

There were some bright spots in Washington. Garfield County in the southeast corner of the state gets the gold star with 80 percent turnout among its 1,500 voters.

Turnout was stronger in Oregon and Idaho with nearly 70 percent and around 58 percent respectively.