I was slightly surprised when I walked into the Renton Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, July 9. First I was surprised by how close the train runs next to the building (an awesome sight to see as a newcomer) and secondly by the number of people who were attending the chamber’s “Meet the Candidates” event.
The space was packed inside and on the deck as the city and school board candidates, chamber members, local leaders, and interested residents mingled, drank wine and ate chicken wings.
I enjoyed going around and meeting some interesting new people, met people I had only spoken with via email face-to-face and talking with candidates about how the paper can better cover the elections in the future.
Renton, you are in good hands this election.
With Renton being one of the larger cities in King County, it’s no surprise there are so many viable candidates running for mayor, council and school board. But when you add in the collective experience each candidate has and the diversity of this race, Renton residents should feel ready to fill out their ballots once they arrive in the mail.
In the council race, Renton has seven candidates running in opposed races. Out of those seven, three are people of color and three are women. In the mayor race, you have a split between men and women candidates and a person of color hoping to lead the minority-majority city.
The race reflects Renton well.
Even more important is the wealth of knowledge a majority of the candidates hold. The proposals and conversations coming out of the election this early are great, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
So when mayor candidate Ruth Perez told me Renton has historically had low voter turnouts at the chamber event, I was a bit shocked.
While I took Ruth at face value, I had to look at the numbers myself (it’s the reporter in me).
The following week I took a dive into the Google-verse and found an interactive map showing historic voter data across King and Pierce counties, divided by precinct. The information ranges from the 2010 general election to the 2018 general election. Readers can take a gander at the map here; https://bit.ly/2McMMzx.
According to this map, during the 2016 general election an average of 75 percent of Renton voters turned in ballots. This makes sense since it was a heated presidential race (as if anyone could forget that fateful night). In 2017 the voter turnout made a drastic turn with only 31 – 40 percent of Renton’s voters turning in ballots. While this is a low number, it’s common knowledge that odd-numbered-year elections receive fewer votes than even-year elections. These elections are known as off-year elections. Neither presidential elections or mid-term elections take place.
These elections are no less important since many city, county and state races take place during off-years, along with tax ballot measures and state-wide ordinances. I would argue these elections are even more important for voters since local races have a larger impact on your life, but that’s a column for a different day.
Back to the numbers
In 2018 the map shows Renton had around 75 percent voter turnout.
My curiosity was not quenched so I reached out to the King County Elections Office. The person on the other end of the media line, Halei Watkins, was kind and helpful in my search. Once I told her I was looking for voter data for specifically Renton addresses, she promised to collect what she had and send it my way. I received the email just a few days later.
According to the numbers Watkins sent me, the average voter turnout for both primary and general elections between 2016 and 2018 was just 42 percent. Less than half of the registered voters in Renton regularly participate in the decision-making process for this large city.
Let me break it down by year;
The 2016 primary election saw only 27 percent of registered voters. The 2016 general election saw 75 percent.
The 2017 primary election only had a 23 percent voter turnout, and only 29 percent turned out for the general.
In last year’s elections, 2018, only 33 percent of voters returned their ballots for the primary election and then only 65 percent returned their ballots for the general election.
If this isn’t enough data to help you, my reader, understand why this is such a problem, let’s break down more numbers.
According to the 2017 U.S. Census’s American Community Survey, there were 101,379 residents in Renton. According to the 2010 U.S. Census (which is about to be replaced in 2020), the total population was 90,927.
The total population of residents under 18, the legal age to register as a voter, was 23,050 in 2010. So that means 67,877 residents were potentially eligible to register in 2010.
According to the county’s 2018 Voter Registration Map, only 61 – 71 percent of eligible residents registered to vote. If we use our census numbers and the median percent of 66, it means approximately 44,799 people likely registered to vote (don’t worry reader, I used my calculator).
The number then dwindles when you look at voter turnout. In the most recent general election, 2018, only 65 percent of Renton registered voters turned out. That means it is likely only 29,119 voters sent in ballots.
See how quickly that number went from 67,000 potential voters to just under 30,000? That is 30 percent of your city population deciding the future of the city for 100 percent of its residents. And I am certain 100 percent of you have an opinion on where this city is headed.
Obviously, my data is not perfect, and I’m sure someone who is an expert on data and statistics could sit me down and tell me 1,000 different ways my data is off. But I think it generally paints a picture of how quickly the number of people who are choosing our leaders shrinks when analyzed.
As I state above, Renton has some fantastic candidates running for local seats. Every eligible voter in Renton has the right to be represented by someone they trust with their future. To let only a small portion of your neighbors decide for the rest of you is insane to me.
Please make sure you are registered to vote. Please make sure your family members are registered, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors. Even that guy you seemingly always run into at the grocery store no matter what day you go, make sure he is registered to vote!
There are three ways to register to vote in King County. Register online 24-hours a day (like right at this moment) on https://olvr.votewa.gov/. All you need is a current driver’s license or state-issued ID card.
If you don’t have either you can download and print a voter registration form in multiple different languages at https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/print-voter-registration-forms.aspx and mail it to the King County Elections. Don’t have a printer at home? Go visit your local library, no excuses.
If neither of those is appealing you can go out and register at the Renton King County Elections office, 919 SW Grady Way. Voting is more than just our right, it’s our job as responsible Americans. Take the time and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
Monday, July 29, is the deadline to register or update your registration online or by mail. Residents can register in person up-to Election Day.
With so many great candidates, why wouldn’t you want to vote?