With six days to do to the November 3 election, in which three positions for the Sammamish City Council are on the ballot, City ballot returns through Oct. 26 are a dismal 7.8% of registered voters.
This is fractionally behind neighboring cities, Issaquah, Redmond and Kirkland, which are hovering around 8% ballot returns. Bellevue is slightly higher at 8.4%. All of King County, including Seattle where there are City Council races, is hovering around 8% ballot returns so far.
Off-year elections typically have dramatically lower voter turnout than presidential years or mid-term years in which the top of the ballot has a US Senator race. In Washington, the governor is elected in the same year as the president and mid-term elections have a US Senate seat at the top of the ballot.
City Council races are in the odd years, and don’t draw much in the way of turnout. Top top-of-the-ballot office races in King County are for Assessor and Director of Elections, two yawners that won’t help draw voters.
The top ballot initiative this year is I-1136, another Tim Eyman tax initiative that most people believe will be ruled invalid in a court challenge should it pass. A number of arcane advisory votes are on the ballot.
Eighty five percent of Sammamish voters typically turn out in a presidential election. This historically drops to 50% or less in an odd-year election. But since the City Council races are “down ballot,” by the time voters get down to these races, the actual voter participation is even lower.
Sammamish Comment has charted the statistics in three recent odd-year elections:
The City Council election in 2013 was the worst in the last three because only one of three races was contested, and one of these candidates was a token candidate, much as Hank Klein is this year against incumbent Ramiro Valderrama. Larry Wright filed to run against Kathy Huckabay, who was seeking to return to the Council after a four year absence. The race drew 9,805 votes, or a mere 34% of the registered voters. Wright, who didn’t campaign, received 3,133 votes or 31.8% of the votes cast in this race. Huckabay received 6,672 votes for 67.8% (the balance were write-ins). Huckabay received votes from only 23% of the registered voters.
Voter participation in the 2011 and 2009 elections, when there were contests for all positions and some hot issues, was higher.
The City Council races this year have some heat, with traffic, development and the environment being the top issues.
Position 2 is an open seat held by retiring three-term Council Member Nancy Whitten, the Council’s leading environmentalist. Newcomer Christie Malchow faces Mark Cross, a former two-term Council Member and Mayor who is seeking a comeback after a four year hiatus.
Position 4 is one-term incumbent Valderrama against the token opposition from Klein. Valderrama is an outcast from the ruling majority “Gang of 4” led by Mayor Tom Vance and Deputy Mayor Huckabay. The Gang of 4 recruited Klein to run against Valderrama, but he dropped out of the race two months later too late to remove his name from the ballot. Members of the Gang of 4 are nonetheless doorbelling and urging a vote for Klein, who doesn’t want to serve.
Position 6 pits incumbent one-term Vance against newcomer Tom Hornish. This race took an unexpectedly bitter turn last week when Vance published a petulant advertisement that mentioned Hornish in passing, turning increasingly bitter this week in an advertisement taking a direct attack on Hornish. Huckabay, a Vance ally and a member of the Gang of 4 who is vociferously opposed to Hornish, Malchow and Valderrama, emailed a “push-poll” style of questions against all three candidates.
The number of registered voters in Sammamish actually went down slightly this year vs 2013. Klahanie residents were denied the right to vote in this year’s election by the City Council, despite annexation essentially becoming effective in all other respects in July. The political annexation doesn’t take effect until January 1, meaning they can’t vote in a City Council race until 2017.