Low voter turnout persists in Yakima County despite outreach efforts

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Election officials report that despite outreach efforts over the years, Yakima County continues to have some of the lowest voter turnout in Washington state.

Yakima County auditor Charles Ross said the state has continued to find new ways to make it easier for residents to cast a ballot by including postage, sending out printed voter guides and allowing people to print replacement ballots online.

However, there hasn’t been a significant increase in voters turning in ballots. Ross said he believes the problem has little to do with the voting process, because plenty of people show up for presidential elections.

“We have 85% turnout rates and everybody figures out how to get their ballot in,” Ross said.

Ross said plenty of people just decided not to vote, not because the process is too difficult, but because they aren’t interested in the issues being voted on or don’t understand what’s on the ballot.

“I’ve been getting a lot of people talking about confusion: Who are these people on my ballot? I’m in a different legislative district,” Ross said.

Ross said others might care about the issues, but are too busy with work to feel like they can take the time out of their day to vote. He said that’s especially prevalent for low-income residents living in agricultural Yakima County.

Some people might also just be content with the status quo, but Ross said a lot of people don’t vote because they feel like their vote doesn’t count or won’t make a difference in the end. He said in some cases, that’s because of partisan issues.

“If you’re a Republican living in Washington, the statewide elected offices are going to be driven mainly by the west side,” Ross said.

Ross said there’s also differences in voter turnout based on ethnicity. He said the Latino community has the lowest voter turnout of any group in Yakima County, despite concerted outreach efforts.

“We have a bilingual program coordinator who spends a tremendous amount of her time cultivating relationships in that community,” Ross said.

Ross said the coordinator reaches out top people through Spanish media and leaders in the Latino community to try and figure out what they can do to help increase voter turnout.

While the solution remains elusive, Ross said his biggest hope for the Aug. 2 primary election and the upcoming general election is that people trust the process the auditor’s office uses to ensure ballots are counted properly.

“At the end of the day, I want every single voter in Yakima County to have 100% trust in those results,” Ross said. “Yes, mistakes do happen, but very, very few.”