Controversial primary election underway


The Mirror

Election officials are determined to buck the tide of voter resentment over the new, pick-a-party primary election ballot.

As a result of a court ruling that the 70-year-old, blanket-style primary system was unconstitutional, Washington law now requires voters in primaries to choose a party when picking partisan candidates and to vote only for candidates within that party.

Informal sampling indicates public opinion running against the change. Many voters –– particularly independents who’ve been accustomed to picking from candidates of any party –– may protest by skipping the Sept. 14 primary and only vote in the general election in November, when multiple choice rules.

But absentee (mail-in) ballots for the primary were sent last week to a record 522,000 King County voters, and the number could swell to about 550,000 before the election, according to county election officials.

The absentee count is extra significant this year because those voters will be the first to try the new ballot. As much as 70 percent of the voting in the primary is expected to be the absentee route, said Dean Logan, director of the county department that includes elections.

How many people will actually vote is the unknown commodity. Logan, who estimated in early-August that the county turnout could be a higher-than-usual 43 percent, has downsized that prediction but is still optimistic.

“Our average primary turnout in a presidential (election) year has ranged from 37 percent to 41 percent,” said Logan. “Given the number of important issues and contests on the ballot, we may well come in at the high end of that range this year.” 

Also contributing to a potentially high turnout is “all the education and outreach” by county election officials in an effort to familiarize voters with the new primary system, Logan said.

The push has included advertising on cable television and on Metro Transit buses, plus a King County voters’ pamphlet that was to begin arriving at households last week. Along with information about candidates and ballot measures, the pamphlet has step-by-step instructions for the new style of voting and an explanation of the change.

In Federal Way, Logan is scheduled to explain the primary method and answer questions during a public meeting at 5 p.m. Sept. 7 at Federal Way Public Schools’ Education Service Center, 31405 18th Ave. S. The meeting is being organized by County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer.

“The goal is to encourage voters to participate in the primary, regardless of how they may feel about the new process,” Logan said. “This election is too important for voters to sit out.”

In statewide, countywide and local contests, voters in Federal Way will be part of deciding the fate of levies for fire protection services and public libraries, the winners of two contested races for county Superior Court judge, and the finalists for congressman in the 9th District and state offices, including governor.

For the primary, King County is using is using a ballot with color-coding and other formatting that officials hope will help voters navigate the ballot, which essentially is in two parts –– a section with partisan races that require one-party voting, and another section with non-partisan contests and ballot measures.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565,


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