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Thursday, October 07, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Election primary sheds new light on party loyalties

By Susan Gilmore and Justin Mayo
Seattle Times staff reporters

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Party choice for the September primary
On the northern edge of Seattle's Capitol Hill is something you don't see anywhere else in Seattle: a precinct that voted Republican last month.

Here, in a pocket that encompasses the gated community of Broadmoor, the 625 registered voters of SEA 43-1992 voted heavily Republican. Of the 300 who picked a partisan ballot, 171 voted Republican and 129 Democratic.

Across Lake Washington in Redmond, north of Lake Sammamish, there are 232 registered voters in RED 48-2966. Out of those voters, 97 cast ballots in the primary but only 90 picked a party: 22 voted Republican and 68 Democratic.

For the first time ever, the political profile of King County has been unclothed, at least for September's primary. Because of a court ruling, the state's voters had to choose a party to vote the partisan races in the September primary election.

While party selections for individual voters are secret, ballot choices for each precinct in King County are public.

In 90 percent of the precincts in King County a majority of the voters chose Democratic ballots. Of the 430,719 voters in King County who picked a party, 69 percent chose a Democratic ballot and 30 percent picked a Republican one. One percent went Libertarian.

That could be because the political leanings of the county are changing. It could be because there were more Democratic races on the ballot with well-known candidates pitted against each other. Or it could be an anomaly.

Why a new primary?


Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review an appeals-court decision that tossed out Washington's 70-year-old blanket primary under which voters chose freely among candidates of either party.

The Legislature then created a new primary where the top two candidates would advance to the general-election ballot, regardless of party. But the bill stated that if that plan did not hold up in court, the state would revert to a primary where voters had to pick a party to vote in partisan races. Arguing that the top-two primary would have been challenged in court by political parties, Gov. Gary Locke vetoed that system in favor of the "pick-a-party" primary.

The Nov. 2 general-election ballot will include the Washington State Grange-sponsored Initiative 872, which would change the primary system so that the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would move on to the general-election ballot. Under that system, voters could pick any candidate regardless of party.

(The Times could not analyze precinct results in Snohomish County because party tabulations were only done at the county level.)

Because it was the first experience with this kind of a primary, election watchers are reluctant to speculate why King County went so heavily Democratic last month.

However, Democrats won legislative House races in the 41st and 48th districts for the first time ever in 2002, and former Vice President Al Gore defeated President Bush in the traditionally Republican 8th Congressional district four years ago. This year in that district there is a heated race between Democrat Dave Ross and Republican Dave Reichert to replace retiring Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn.

An analysis of the primary vote found:

• In only 8 percent of the King County precincts did a majority of the voters choose Republican ballots. No party had a majority in 2 percent of the precincts.

• The results found 7.6 percent of the voters did not pick a party; a majority of them, 93 percent, were absentee voters. Some voters intentionally opted to vote only for the nonpartisan races. Others probably forgot to mark a party preference on their ballots and their party votes weren't counted.

"Some of this was intentional, certainly," said Bill Huennekens, King County Elections superintendent, "but we've never conducted this kind of primary before."

He said some voters, particularly those who voted absentee, probably forgot to mark their party preference; those who voted at the polls and did not pick a party had to have help from a poll worker to process their ballots.

• Statewide, 7.8 percent of the voters picked no party on their ballots. Of those choosing a party, 58 percent statewide went Democratic, 41 percent Republican and one percent Libertarian.

Chelan County had the highest percentage of voters who did not choose a party, with 17 percent of the voters bypassing partisan races.

In Snohomish County the number was nearly 14 percent, while in Pierce County the number was 12 percent.

Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger couldn't explain the high number of voters in his county who bypassed the partisan races.

"I think that Snohomish County voters simply did not like the fact that they had to choose a party," he said.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com; Justin Mayo: 206-464-3669 or jmayo@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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