An experiment aimed at boosting voter turnout with postage-paid ballot return envelopes fell flat in Clark County this month, with a smaller percentage of ballots returned by mail than last year.
Only 63.4 percent of ballots for this year’s primary election were returned through the U.S. Postal Service, according to Clark County Elections Office, which certified the Aug. 7 election results Tuesday. Last year, the return rate by mail was 66.4 percent. In the last midterm primary, in 2016, returns via the post office were 58.7 percent.
Auditor Greg Kimsey said he was surprised to learn prepaid postage didn’t increase the ratio of ballots returned by mail but couldn’t speculate as to why.
“It does reinforce the idea that people vote when there is something on the ballot that they feel informed about, that they care about and that they’re concerned with,” Kimsey said. “Which is why we see huge turnout in presidential election years and lower turnout in other elections.”
The final voter turnout rate on Aug. 7 was 36.13 percent of the electorate, or 100,903 voters. There were 64,472 ballots returned via mail this year. In 2017, 31,760 ballots were returned by mail. In 2016, the number was 47,125.
“We’re pleased to see the upper end of the range for midterm primaries we’ve seen in the past,” Kimsey said.
Kimsey said he is still hoping the state will decide to pay its fair share of election costs so Clark County, and the rest of the state, can continue to provide prepaid postage. Prepaid postage statewide was limited to 2018 elections, although King County will continue to pay for postage indefinitely. That poses a fairness problem, Kimsey said.
“What’s really driving my desire for the state to pay its share of election costs is that all the voters in the state should have the same administrative processes that they’re participating in,” he said.
A lack of equitable practice could also pose a problem in contested races if a recount is ever needed. A candidate seeking office for a jurisdiction that covers King County and a neighboring county could argue an issue of fairness during a recount if one county didn’t have access to prepaid ballots.
“The losing candidate would not be pleased,” Kimsey added.
The Aug. 7 primary election results were certified on Tuesday. The results didn’t change much, but in many races the margins moving into the November election are tight.
In Clark County, the race for 3rd Congressional District has less than 1 percentage point between the top two vote-getters. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, received 38.89 percent of the vote, trailing Democrat Carolyn Long, who had 39.49 percent. Districtwide, however, Herrera Beutler leads 42.07 percent to Long’s 35.26 percent.
Another close local race is county council District 1. Jim Moeller already conceded, but he earned 31.72 percent of the vote. Councilor Jeanne Stewart will defend her position against Temple Lentz. Lentz is leading with 33.67 percent. Stewart trails with 33.05 percent.
The Clark County chair race boasts wider margins. Councilor Eileen Quiring leads with 38.40 percent, with Eric Holt coming in second with 24.17. Officially out of the race is incumbent Chair Marc Boldt, who received 21.91 percent of the vote.
Another county race where the incumbent is trailing is the county clerk position. Scott Weber, who’s served two terms, came in second to Barbara Melton, 49.21 percent to 50.65 percent, respectively.
The race for 18th District representative is also without an incumbent in the lead, although in this instance it’s because Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, decided she would not seek re-election. Looking to fill her seat are Democrat Kathy Gillespie and Republican Larry Hoff. Gillespie leads Hoff 52.04 percent to 47.81 percent.
For Vancouver City Council, incumbent Councilor Laurie Lebowsky is leading with 40.87 percent of the vote. She will defend her seat against Sarah Fox, who finished the primary with 32.54 percent.