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Spin Control: Final election stat: Record ballots, but not record turnout

December 4, 2016 GMT

Spokane County certified its ballot results last week, which gives us the final piece of the 2016 election puzzle: the turnout.

It was better than ever. And it wasn’t as good as in some past elections.

Like most things in politics, it depends on how you want to spin it. Vince Lombardi, Scotty Bowman or whoever really first said “statistics are for losers” either forgot to add “… and political pundits” or figured that was a redundancy.

The 239,229 ballots cast are the most ever counted in an election in Spokane. Yay for us.

The 306,261 registered voters are also the most ever signed up in Spokane. Yay again.

But as a percentage of registered voters casting a ballot, it’s not a record. The number of voters voting did not grow as fast as the number of voters registering. This year’s 78.1 percent is pretty middling by historic standards and lower than all the presidential elections since 2000, when the George W. Bush vs. Al Gore matchup enticed only 76 percent of the voters to cast a ballot.

An analysis of the precinct breakdowns shows that all areas of the community have more registered voters than the most recent presidential election in 2012. Some areas had fewer votes, while others had significantly more.

Northeast Spokane precincts, those east of Division Street from the river to Hillyard, had fewer people turning in ballots than four years ago. Some individual precincts in cities and unincorporated areas also saw drops, including the precinct that encompasses Fairchild Air Force Base.

Because the boundary lines have changed and some precincts get split as their population grows, it’s hard to make direct comparisons for all 355 precincts. But it is possible to say, compared to 2012, the city of Spokane Valley turned in an extra 2,224, un- incorporated areas of the Valley an extra 1,656 and Liberty Lake an extra 948.

In the city of Spokane, downtown and the lower South Hill managed an extra 646 ballots, the upper South Hill an extra 1,187, the far northwest precincts an extra 720 and the West Central to Division area another 720, thanks in part to the growth in the precincts around Kendall Yards.

The rural areas in south Spokane County stayed pretty close to even.

Put another way – the way candidates and political parties are likely to see it – registration in almost all precincts grew by a couple of percentage points, while percentage of ballots turned in dropped. But turnout doesn’t elect candidates or pass ballot measures. Votes do. The precincts that traditionally vote Republican turned in more ballots than those that traditionally vote Democratic.

A map of the vote totals is available on the Spin Control blog.

We’re No. 8

The state, too, had a record number of ballots cast but didn’t have a record turnout, for much the same reason.

Even though the state’s turnout of 79 percent was below what election officials hoped, it was eighth in the nation, Lori Augino, state elections director, told a House committee last week.

At the bottom of the list were several states that didn’t hit 50 percent, including Texas, Indiana and Hawaii.

About 310,000 voters joined the rolls in 2016, pushing the state over 4 million for the first time. Augino said the most popular way to sign up was online, with registering when getting or renewing a driver’s license a close second.

On to next year’s campaigns

The Public Disclosure Commission wants some changes to the state’s campaign finance laws that might make some candidates happy. It told the House State Government Committee it would streamline the reporting system to get rid of current laws that require comprehensive spending reports on a calendar that changes each year based on the date of the election, and requires reports seven days and 21 days before an election.

That timetable is left over from the days when most reports were filed by paper, and now most are filed online, PDC staff said. It could be streamlined to report contributions weekly and expenditures monthly.

The commission also would like large contributions of $10,000 or more to an initiative campaign to be reported within 24 hours by the donor, and within 48 hours by the recipient. And the state needs to remove the limit on large contributions to ballot measures within three weeks of the election, because a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made that unenforceable.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments, at www.spokesman.com/ blogs/spincontrol.