The other day I was talking with a relative, and the subject of voting came up. He didn’t know anything about the coming elections, who the candidates are, and when you can vote. That is, he was like the majority of Washington citizens, for better or worse. That makes you wonder about why people vote, or don’t vote. In terms of not voting, Snohomish County has a poor record. Snohomish had the worst turnout of any county in the state in August’s primary, with a little over 100,000 people — one quarter of registered voters — casting their ballots in Snohomish County. That equals 19 percent of all residents over the age of 18.
Voters didn’t do much better in 2013, when only two-fifths of voters in Snohomish County bothered to vote in the November general election. That was half of the number of people who voted in the 2012 general election, when 334,664 people cast their ballots. So we know that people will vote, when they think it might make a difference, like between Romney and Obama or Inslee and McKenna. But they don’t pay a lot of attention in the years between presidential elections.
And yet, the people who run for office in these off-years make the local and state decisions that directly affect our quality of life, in some ways much more so than a distant federal government. The people on the ballot in November will have to decide how to fund K-12 education, now that the Legislature has been found in contempt of the Supreme Court ruling that the state is violating the paramount constitutional duty for education for all children. That is a tall order, and one which will affect the quality of education of your children or grandchildren and for all children for generations to come.
Voters in Snohomish County will also elect its executive, the person who oversees and administers all county government activities, from roads to parks to public health to public safety and the courts system. There is an election for one of the Public Utility District Commissioners, for a seat on the Everett City Council, for the County Sheriff, and for numerous local judges. There are statewide ballot measures to reduce class size (I-1351), and extend background and public safety checks for people purchasing guns at gun shows (I-594). There is another initiative that does the opposite: it will roll back currently mandated background checks for gun purchasers (I-591).
When you look at the voter’s pamphlet, it sometimes becomes hard to distinguish candidates and what they will do. After all, who wouldn’t want to “make school funding a priority without raising taxes” as Mark Harmsworth, a Republican candidate in the 44th District says? Or how about “We must spend tax dollars wisely, and meet the challenges facing Washington state by making education our top priority, creating jobs, and getting past the gridlock in Olympia,” as Mike Wilson states, the Democrat running for the same seat. To get a better sense of how these candidates will line up after they are done with their happy talk, it helps to go to their campaign websites. There you will find that Harmsworth is supported by the insurance companies, the bankers, and the NRA. Wilson is supported by the teachers, the firefighters, the Washington State Patrol, and the Sierra Club. Gives you something to chew on when deciding who will best represent you in Olympia.
We have six weeks to election day and three weeks before ballots are mailed out. You can still register to vote online until Oct. 6. When you get your ballot, don’t recycle it. Sit down, take a few minutes to consider your choices, look at the candidates’ websites and endorsers, as well as their sugar-coated positions. Take everything you read or watch, such as paid mailers from candidates or TV ads, with a large grain of salt. And then vote as you think makes the most sense to you, your family, your community and your state. Think and vote like the citizen you are!