The Washington state midterm elections are fast approaching – ballots are mailed Oct. 19 and due by 8 p.m. on Nov. 8.
If you’re in Whatcom County, you’ll see statewide and local elections on the ballot. Local elections, the focus of this column series, tend to have lower media coverage and voter participation compared to statewide and national elections.
In Whatcom County, the 2020 general election saw almost 88% voter turnout. Statewide races received more than 100,000 votes from Whatcom County residents, while local races received as few as 35,000 votes. In comparison, the 2022 primary election saw 48% voter turnout, with one local candidate making the midterm ballot with just under 4,000 votes.
Primary elections, held late July through early August, narrow races down to two candidates or one unopposed candidate to fill a seat at the end of an elected official’s term. Those candidates campaign until the general election, when voters decide who will take the seat.
Whatcom County population estimates and election data reveal that out of almost 230,000 residents, 68% were registered to vote for the primaries, and as mentioned, only about half of those registered to vote did so. In other words, approximately one-third of Whatcom County’s population determined who was on the midterm ballot to represent the people, make court decisions and propose and decide legislation for everyone in the county.
Put simply, our local elections fail the democracy vibe check, and that’s unfortunately common. Lucky for us, it’s easy to vote in Washington compared to other states – we’ve had a mail-in voting option since 1991, so we can avoid the horrors of taking the day off work to stand for hours in a poll line. You can register to vote online until Oct. 31, or in-person up until election day.
Whatcom County is split into Legislative District 40 and Legislative District 42. Each has two Representative seats up for grabs, along with the 42nd district Senate seat. The 42nd district races in particular were close in the primaries, so every midterm vote counts. And as a government refresher: Legislators affect your life directly. They represent you, work on budgets, join committees and propose and vote on bills that can become law in your city.
Another race to watch is District Court Judge. There are two attorneys campaigning for District Court Judge, a judge who deals closely with the general public through common infractions, traffic violations, civil cases and personal matters like name changes.
Initiatives are also on the ballot – they’re how communities can sidestep the state legislature and propose statutes directly to the people for a vote. Two Whatcom County property tax increases are proposed for approval: one to provide more daycare and early-learning services and one to continue support for Whatcom County Emergency Medical Services.
In future columns, I’ll explore the two Whatcom County initiatives and their potential effect on the community, then I’ll break down the races – we’ll hear from the candidates, consider their backgrounds and compare their goals.
Sydney Jackson (she/her) (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a news reporter for The Front and WWU journalism major with a political science focus. Her research and reporting interests include politics, health sciences, social issues and the arts. She enjoys fashion, music, film, reading and creative writing.