The recent news that a top voting machine maker finally admitted to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden it did indeed install remote-access software on U.S. voting machines during the early 2000s, making those machines susceptible to hacking — combined with the recent indictment of 12 Russians accused of manipulating our 2016 presidential election, fishing for access to voting machine manufacturers and actually hacking a state election board website and stealing 500,000 voters’ information — got us thinking about how good we have it here in the Pacific Northwest.
Washington followed Oregon’s lead in 2012, doing away with voting machines in favor of the much more convenient — and less vulnerable to hacking and manipulation — vote-by-mail system.
Vote-by-mail allows voters to vote from the convenience of their own home, or from their car or a local park or coffee shop. Personally, this editor likes to sit down with a cup of fresh-roasted coffee on a Sunday morning and dig into the voters’ pamphlet and local media recommendations before filling in those bubbles and biking her completed (and signed!) ballot to the local library drop box.
The system we have here in Washington and Oregon definitely beats taking a day off work to stand in line for hours, sometimes to be informed — as were countless voters in key states during the 2016 presidential election — that you can’t vote at that particular precinct or that your name isn’t on the list of registered voters or that you have already voted or whatever excuse helped disenfranchise tens of thousands in November 2016.
With the ease of vote-by-mail, you would think that our voter turnout would blow other states’ turnout out of the water. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in that arena.
The May primary in Oregon, for instance, had the lowest voter turnout in 16 years. Clark County’s numbers aren’t so hot, either. In the August 2016 primary, voter turnout in this county was only 30.62 percent. In the August 2014 primary, it was 28.61 percent. Both of these primaries helped choose who would run for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
The winner in both of the general elections following those low-voter-turnout primaries? Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican who represents Clark County (where, by the way, Hillary Clinton won the general election), has a lifetime “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and has voted “yes” on Trump-supported policies more than 90 percent of the time.
Studies have shown that low voter turnout increases the chances of an election result not pleasing the majority of the population. When fewer people vote, minority opinions can steamroll those of the majority. We see this time and again with reasonable gun control. A 2018 NPR/Ipsos poll found that three-quarters of those polled, including nearly 60 percent of Republicans, said they wanted stricter gun laws. This support, however, does not translate in the Republican-controlled House or Senate, where many politicians have accepted donations from the gun manufacturing lobby, the National Rifle Association.
We know we need to “get out the vote” to have a more representative democracy and to maintain the checks and balances this country’s founders established. But will that happen in the upcoming primary election? Will younger, low-income voters — who tend to vote in much smaller numbers than their older, wealthier neighbors — turn out to cast their vote on Aug. 7? Will they play a part in shaping the ballot in the November general election? There are a few interesting choices on the primary ballot, especially when it comes to the race for that 3rd Congressional District seat, where Herrera Beutler, the incumbent, faces challengers that include everyone from former California professor Earl Bowerman, who identifies as a right-wing Trump supporter, to Iraq war veteran Dorothy Gasque, who identifies as a progressive.
Ballots for the Aug. 7 primary election will be mailed to registered voters on July 20. We recommend heading straight to clark.wa.gov/elections to learn more about the candidates in the voters’ pamphlet, filling out your ballot and then walking, biking or driving it to the closest drop box.