Local voters upstage neighbors | SJC has highest turnout in state

San Juan County residents are the most active voters in the state.

“We consistently are among the highest,” County Auditor F. Milene Henley said. “I’d love to think it’s because the election office does such a great job but it’s because we’re old and we’re educated and those are the people who vote.”

In the 2018 General Election, 83.83 percent of registered San Juan County voters turned in their ballots. That is 12 percent higher than the total statewide voter turnout for the same election season. Nationally, fewer than 50 percent of registered voters participated in the November midterms.

With state initiatives focused on a carbon tax and increased gun restrictions, and local contests for sheriff and prosecuting attorney, Henley expected an increase in participation in this election.

“People vote more when there are races or issues of interests on the ballot. The national divisiveness and energy around the election certainly got more people to vote,” Henley said. “There were some very important state initiatives and there were some hotly contested local races. … a contested race will bring more people out to vote.”

More than 40 percent of county voters in the 2018 election were ages 65 and older, which is roughly 31.8 percent of the population overall, according to the state employment security department’s last count in 2017. Statewide, seniors 65 and older make up 15 percent of the population.

San Juan islanders tend to be better educated than their state neighbors as well, with 47 percent having a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to the rest of the state’s 33.6 percent.

“Voter turnout is highly affected by the demographics of the voting population,” Henley said. “High turnout is correlated with age, with education … We are an old and highly educated population in San Juan County, which is why voter turnout seems to be high here.”

San Juan has consistently been the top Washington state county with voter turnout, though the number of ballots returned has slowly dwindled over the years.

“There has been a definite downward trend, not just nationwide but locally in turnout,” Henley said. “This election was contrary to that trend, so I was very excited to see it. … I believe that the 2020 election there will be a very high turnout.”