Voter turnout better than it looks at first

The turnout for the May 15 election was the “lowest voter turnout” in recent memory, at 34 percent of eligible voters in in Oregon participating. In Polk County, that number is slightly higher at 37 percent.

While it may be the lowest in memory, some factors come into play that should make Oregon and Polk County proud of their participation in government.

First, this was Oregon’s first non-presidential primary contest in which known citizens were automatically registered to vote — courtesy of Oregon passing the nation’s first ever “Automatic Voter Registration law” in 2015.

If you look at the number of total votes cast — nearly 900,000 — it is by far the largest of actual votes ever cast in an Oregon non-presidential primary. For example, in May 2014, 752,000 ballots were returned. That year, there were roughly 2.1 million registered voters, so turnout was slightly higher at 35.5 percent.

Nearly one-third of Oregon’s registered voters are not affiliated with a political party, meaning they were locked out from participating in primary nomination races by Oregon’s closed primary system.

In the other nine party primary elections held so far in 2018, voter turnout has been in the 15 to 25 percent range.

And, while Polk County had more than enough interesting races on the May 15 ballot, statewide, it was arguably a boring ballot, with no U.S. Senate contest, and two Democrat governor candidates who didn’t put up a real challenge. Out of five Congressional races, there was just one primary on the Democrat side that was competitive. Of the 75 legislative races on the ballot, just 10 of them had contested primaries on both the Republican and Democrat sides.

The higher-than-appearances turnout is in part thanks to Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, its automatic voter registration law, and — most notably — the determination of Oregon residents to participate in determining who our leaders are, regardless of if we are non-affiliated or registered with a party.

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