The next primary election here in Washington is coming up August 18th,
which may catch some voters by surprise. It means that if you need to
register or make changes to your voter registration, you've only got
until July 18th, not even two weeks, to do so. Even though it's an
off-year election, the primary is full of important local races, and in
some counties there are hot contests that could mean big changes. It's
also the first year of vote-by-mail in all Washington counties but one.
Miriam Helgeland with the League of Women Voters hopes the earlier date doesn't cause confusion, but she says there's a good reason for the change.
"Of course, they worry about changing it because in August, people are
gone, and they're doing summer things. But they really needed more time
for the people who won the primary to prepare for the general election.
The primary used to be in September - late in September - and that only
left about a month and a half."
The state is now using what's called a "Top Two" primary system - only
the top two vote-getters go on to the general election, even if they're
from the same political party. Helgeland says that makes a good primary
election turnout more important than ever.
"If people fuss in the general election and say, 'I don't have any
choices, I'm not gonna vote, I don't like the choices,' then they
should've voted in the primary - in order to affect the choices."
This is the first year that King County, that is, Seattle, joins other
Washington counties with an all-vote-by-mail ballot - in fact, the only
county with traditional polling places will be Pierce County, whose
seat is Tacoma.
Helgeland says the convenience of being able to vote by mail might
spark a bigger turnout in most places; primaries in non-presidential
election years tend to draw fewer voters.
Washington residents can register to vote by calling their county auditors' offices.