Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Turning out the vote

If you’ve been driving, shopping or just walking your dog down the block the past couple of weeks in or around Clark County, the signs of next month’s ritualistic exercise in American Democracy seem to be everywhere.


The signs, billboards, mailers, canvassers – even people allegedly impersonating as canvassers – have sprouted from Fircrest to Hazel Dell. With the first contested Vancouver mayoral race in decades and two statewide initiatives touching on the hot-button issues of gay civil unions and taxes, it seems everyone has an opinion that they aren’t afraid to print in big, black letters or drape in red, white or blue bunting.

While the extra color along Clark County roadways and strewn on kitchen countertops may be good for the region’s sign-makers and direct-mailers, it may not translate into one crucial thing – higher voter turnout.

According to Clark County Election Supervisor Tim Likness, only about 45 percent of eligible voters are expected to mail in their ballots in this year’s general election. Even with the recent dust-up between contenders Councilman Tim Leavitt and Royce Pollard over tolls, taxes and everything East Vancouver-related, that’s an increase of only 2 percent over the county’s last off-year election in 2007.

Granted, that figure includes many Clark County voters outside Vancouver city limits. But between Tim Eyman’s potentially fiscally-disastrous Initiative 1033 and voters deciding the fate of Washington state’s “everything-but-marriage” law with Referendum 71, there’s plenty riding on this election for everyone.

So why is voter turnout in off-year elections so stubbornly low?

Speaking to VBJ this afternoon, Likness had a few ideas. First, Vancouver’s mayoral contest aside, only 34 races are contested out of a total of 81 across the county. And though the two statewide measures up for voter approval are contentious, in past years there have been as many as six initiatives or referendums on the ballot.

Even still, this year’s general election numbers are set to be half that of 2008, with the thousands of new voters helping to make history on the national stage last year seemingly content to sit this one out.

Today, the focus of some poll-watchers is decidedly smaller. “Unfortunately, this is a local election,” said Leavitt campaign manager Temple Lentz, speaking of Clark County voter turnout projections. “This is the most we could expect.”