Reed expects 46 percent turnout for primary

OLYMPIA -- Secretary of State Sam Reed is predicting a 46 percent turnout for Washington's first ever "top two" primary Aug. 19.

That would mark the highest primary turnout in a presidential election year since 1972, barely topping marks set in 1992 and 2004.

Ballots went out last week and about 1,200, or 12 percent, of the near 10,000 that went out in Franklin County already had been returned as of Monday.

In Benton County, where ballots were mailed out a day later last week, more than 3,300 -- or 4 percent -- of the near 82,000 ballots issued had been returned as of Monday.

Reed said he is mildly concerned voters will be weary of voting using a third primary system in five years, with the top two having been preceded by the unpopular pick-a-party primary and the state's popular but constitutionally flawed blanket primary.

But he reports voter feedback has been largely positive because they can once again vote for candidates from more than one party on the same ballot.

"Most voters are delighted we're going to have a wide open primary again," Reed said.

Benton County Auditor Bobbie Gagner and Franklin County Auditor Zona Lenhart said Monday that they've received no feedback from voters. They credited public information campaigns and media coverage for heading off any voter confusion.

Reed said turnout will be driven not by the new primary system but by the amount of interest in local primaries. And in that regard, there is more quality than quantity.

"There are some good primaries out there that are going to get people fired up," he said, mentioning the five-way race for an open state House seat in Benton County's 8th Legislative District.

The statewide ballot won't drive people to the polls, with the primary in the race for treasurer offering the most drama.

But interest in Benton County could be driven by the 8th District race and the three-way primary between Benton County Commissioner Leo Bowman and challengers Merle Johnson and Fred Staples.

Gagner is hoping for a turnout in the 60 percent to 65 percent range.

"Hopefully, that will generate enough interest," she said.

Hopes are tempered in Franklin County, where there isn't a compelling local draw. Three Republican challengers are taking on longtime Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, in the 16th District, which includes Pasco, and there's the $5 million Pasco pool bond measure on the ballot.

Lenhart hopes voters turn out because one if not both Benton-Franklin Superior Court races will be decided in the primary.

"This is the only opportunity they're going to have to make a difference," she said.

* Chris Mulick: 360-753-0862; cmulick@tricityherald.com; blog at www.olympiadispatch.com