Statewide voter turnout expected to top 80 percent

Walla Walla County Auditor Karen Martin went a step further, estimating 85 percent turnout here.

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OLYMPIA (AP) -- 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.

Walla Walla County Auditor Karen Martin echoed Reed's observation on the compelling races and measures.

She also said registration numbers have gone up in the county.

"We're usually around 30,000 and we hit 31,000 a while back," Martin said.

As for turnout: "Let's go out on a limb: I'm going to say 85 percent."

Reed, who leaves office in January, said he expects an 81 percent ballot return, which wouldn't beat the record statewide 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 do first-time registrations in person through Oct. 29 at county election offices.

Walla Walla County mails ballots today, and although voters may wait until Election Day to return them or have them postmarked, Martin encouraged voters to send them in sooner to help avoid a crush of ballots around Nov. 6.

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