Politics & Government

Smell test: Is voter turnout in Washington half what it was in 2012?

This graphic, from the campaign of Democrat Tina Podlodowski, criticizes incumbent Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, over voter turnout. But are the numbers accurate?
This graphic, from the campaign of Democrat Tina Podlodowski, criticizes incumbent Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, over voter turnout. But are the numbers accurate? Courtesy

A Democrat looking to become Washington’s chief elections official says voter turnout has declined significantly under her Republican opponent’s watch.

The claim: Democrat Tina Podlodowski says that since Republican Kim Wyman was elected secretary of state four years ago, voter turnout in the state has dropped to less than half what it was before Wyman took office.

In a graphic Podlodowski’s campaign has shared repeatedly on social media — labeled “Voter turnout under Kim Wyman” — a stylized chart shows voter participation falling sharply after Wyman’s election in 2012.

According to the chart, 81 percent of registered voters took part in the 2012 election, followed by 45 percent of voters in 2013, 54 percent of voters in 2014 and 38 percent of voters in 2015.

This year, the graphic says, voter turnout was 35 percent — a number circled in red over a faded picture of Wyman.

The facts: Podlodowski’s campaign graphic mixes turnout numbers from presidential election years with numbers from years that generally aren’t considered comparable.

In Washington and elsewhere, fewer voters take part in mid-term elections — as in 2014 — than cast ballots in presidential election years, such as 2012. Local election years, like those in 2013 and 2015, typically experience even lower turnout, a trend that dates back to before Wyman’s 2012 election.

Podlodowski’s chart also mixes turnout numbers from November general elections and the Aug. 2 primary election.

While it’s true that 81 percent of registered voters in Washington participated in the presidential election in November 2012, only 38.5 percent of voters participated in that year’s primary election in August. That is not far above this year’s August primary election turnout of 35 percent — something Podlodowski’s graph fails to mention.

Elections officials predict that nearly 82 percent of voters will cast ballots in the presidential election this fall, said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State.

The conclusion: False. While voter turnout has declined slightly over the past eight years, the reality is much less dramatic than Podlodowski’s chart portrays.

Voter turnout declined by less than four percentage points between the 2012 and 2016 primary elections, not by more than 40 points, as the chart would have voters believe.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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