Pierce County voters were less likely to cast ballots in last month's general election than voters in all but three other counties in Washington.
In election returns certified Tuesday, Pierce's voter turnout was 41.42 percent. Only Cowlitz (38.63 percent), Clark (37.62 percent) and Yakima (37.48 percent) counties had lower participation rates. Jefferson County had the highest, with 64.76 percent.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson had predicted that 46 percent of the county's 438,344 registered voters would return ballots.
She told our reporter Debbie Cafazzo that 36th out of 39 counties is "pretty typical for Pierce County." It's also an improvement over past years when Pierce was dead last in the state – an improvement that Anderson attributes to the county's belated and reluctant (my words, not hers) conversion to all vote-by-mail in 2011.
Now that vote-by-mail is in place, Anderson said, the remaining barriers to improving voter turnout are out of election officials' hands. Anderson said voter turnout is correlated most strongly to income, education and housing stability.
"For many of the same reasons that we have the highest foreclosure rate in Washington State, we also have low voter participation," she said. "While folks often try to correlate voter outreach with turnout, the variables above are actually much stronger predictors.
"...The only way we're going to see significant changes in turnout is if our community can get 'healthier.'"