The campaign of Washington Secretary of State candidate Tina Podlodowski, a Democrat, has been circulating a graphic on social media attacking incumbent Republican Kim Wyman for declining voter turnout in Washington. It mixes apples and oranges and has resulted in bi-partisan blowback for the challenger. The controversy has also raised awareness that voter turnout depends on a range of factors, many of which are beyond the control of election officials.
Today in interviews with Lens, Podlodowski defended her ground and refined her data points while Wyman pushed back, calling her challenger off-base and overly partisan. The turnout issue is likely to arise in a scheduled debate between the two today in Spokane.
Headlined “Voter Turnout Under Kim Wyman” and displaying a graph over a picture of the incumbent, the contested Podlodowski graphic contrasts voter turnout of 81 percent in the 2012 general election with off-year general election turnout of 45 percent in 2013, and 38 percent in 2015. Against the 2012 presidential year general election numbers, it also compares mid-term general election turnout of 54 percent in 2014, and primary election turnout of 35 percent in 2016.
Melissa Santos of the Tacoma News Tribune takes apart the claims in the Podlodowski campaign graphic, concluding the claim of lower voter turnout under Wyman is “false.” Santos explains the errors of comparing primary and general election turnout, and presidential year elections with mid-term and off-year elections.
Toby Nixon served the 45th District as a Republican state representative for five years. He is a current Kirkland City Council Member and longtime president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.
In a recent Facebook post Nixon wrote: “Tina Podlodowski should be ashamed – comparing 2012 GENERAL election turnout to 2016 PRIMARY election turnout and claiming Kim Wyman is responsible for a drop in turnout from 81% to 35%. UNBELIEVABLE. The fact is that primary turnout in 2012 was 38.5%. I really don’t want someone who fudges numbers to be the chief election officer of the state!”
Podlodowski’s misfire even has Democrats shaking their heads. Puyallup-based political consultant Sue Evans is owner of Northwest Media Allies. She has served as a campaign advisor to State Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-36) and for labor unions and others on a range of ballot measure campaigns. She wrote in a recent Facebook post:
“Tina makes no sense. When do you blame GOTV (Get Out The Vote) on the Secretary of State ever? Let alone the primary, ever? The general is ALWAYS going to be higher. The date of our primary sucks. It was a collective decision to change for overseas military voters. Get the history right. Stupid argument.”
Podlodowski Now Cites New Turnout Numbers
In an interview, Podlodoski charged that Wyman has been “completely inactive” in working to boost voter turnout. Podlodowski defended her focus on voter turnout data but cited different numbers than in the controversial web graphic her campaign distributed.
She instead emphasized “apples to apples” comparisons showing that since Wyman took office in 2013, mid-term general election turnout dropped from 71 percent in 2010 to 54 percent in 2014. She also cited off-year general turnout declining from 51 percent in 2009 to 45 percent in 2013.
Three Hot-Button Initiatives Spiked 2010 Turnout
Wyman told Lens 2010 turnout was especially high because of ballot measures on a state income tax, a soda tax and a proposed two-thirds legislative majority being required to raise taxes. She added turnout depends greatly on whether voters have an issue or candidate they find compelling, and on perceptions of whether or not they can make a difference. Voter perceptions of excessive partisanship, which she said Podlodowski embodies, can also depress turnout, Wyman said.
Data from the Secretary of State show there were lower off-year turnouts than 2013 in 2003 (40 percent), 2001 (44 percent), 1987 (42 percent) and 1985 (40 percent).
The idea that the Secretary of State and county officials can “wave their magic wands” to boost turnout is “ludicrous on its face,” Wyman said. Washington is a vote by mail state and voters have 18 days to deliver their ballots, but it is up to them in the end, Wyman added. She emphasized the work her office has done to help grow voter registration through the Motor Voter program, via online registration, and with social service agencies and public service organizations.
Republicans have held the Secretary of State office for 51 years in Washington. Wyman is the only GOP statewide elected official in Washington, Oregon and California. Elected in 2012, she formerly served as Thurston County Elections Director and then as County Auditor. Podlodowski is a former Microsoft manager and one-term Seattle City Council Member, who has also served as an advisor to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and as a public relations executive.
The Secretary of State oversees state elections, administers statewide ballot measures, certifies election results and promotes voter registration.
A new Elway Poll shows Wyman up eight points.