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Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 2:06 PM

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81 percent election turnout expected in Washington

Washington state's top election official predicted Thursday that more than 80 percent of eligible voters would participate in the state's first completely vote-by-mail election for U.S. president.

The Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Washington state's top election official predicted Thursday that more than 80 percent of eligible voters would participate in the state's first completely vote-by-mail election for U.S. president.

Besides the campaign for the White House, some big statewide races and ballot measures also are drawing voters' attention, said Secretary of State Sam Reed.

Compelling races and ballot measures generate turnout, he said.

"We have that this year, big time," Reed added, citing the gubernatorial race and proposals that include same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization.

Washington state voters also will decide on whether to authorize charter schools and whether to require state legislative supermajorities to pass tax plans.

Reed, who leaves office in January, said he expects an 81 percent ballot return, which wouldn't beat the record turnout of 85 percent set in 2008 when, he said, the state and nation were "really revved up" by a presidential race that generated the most excitement in a generation.

The historic average turnout is 79 percent for presidential elections since 1952, said Reed's spokesman Dave Ammons.

Washington has an all-time high 3.88 million registered voters as of Thursday. More than 150,000 voters have been added to the rolls since the August primary. People can still register in person through Oct. 29 at county election offices.

Counties started mailing out ballots Wednesday and must complete the mailings by Friday. Voters can fill them out and mail them back right away but no later than the postmark deadline of Nov. 6.

The ballot return for the primary election was a weaker than expected 38.5 percent, but Reed still expects a better than average turnout for the general.

"The presidential race has been front and center, and our open governor's race has been highly competitive from the very opening bell. Unusually, we have four wide-open statewide offices - governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and auditor - and three open congressional seats -1st, 6th and new 10th," Reed said in a statement.

He said Democrats and Republicans were "fighting a ferocious battle for control of the Legislature" and that the state's ballot proposals "seem custom-made for driving up turnout this year."

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