Voter unrest, top-two primary drive turnout

Government at all levels works best when the people participate.

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This month's Washington state primary election had the highest voter turnout for a nonpresidential, midterm election in 40 years.

It's clear that more and more people are concerned about the direction of federal, state and local government.

But voter unrest alone doesn't account for this summer's high turnout. We also believe the relatively new top-two primary contributed greatly to increased voter participation.

While the precarious position of government due to the lousy economy isn't good, the public's interest and strong voter participation it has spawned is a positive. The attention of the voters keeps our elected officials focused on addressing concerns and solving problems.

Our representative system of government works best when the people participate.

Statewide the voter turnout for the Aug. 17 primary was 40.41 percent, exceeding the 38 percent prediction of Secretary of State Sam Reed. Voter turnout in Walla Walla County was even higher at 46 percent and Columbia County was higher still at over 62 percent. The Columbia County turnout was third highest among the state's 39 counties, less than two percent under Wahkiakum County's 64 percent.

The last time the statewide turnout was over 40 percent for a midterm primary election was 1970 when turnout was 45.9 percent.

Under the old primary system dismantled a few years ago by the parties through lawsuits, voters had to pick one Republican and one Democrat to face off in the November General Election. After a lot of legal wrangling, voters approved the top-two primary system under which the top two candidates regardless of party go on to the General Election.

The August election was the second time the top-two primary was used and voters appear to have embraced it.

A major reason the top-two primary is popular is it creates competitive races in areas that tend to be politically conservative or liberal. More of those who see themselves as political moderates are finding candidates to support.

It used to be the primary races were decided by the hard right and hard left, leaving a conservative and liberal to face off. In places such as Walla Walla, it was a cakewalk for the GOP while the Democrats had no trouble winning in Seattle.

Now races in Walla Walla and other rural, more conservative areas attract more than one serious Republican. And in liberal areas of the state primary elections attract more than one viable Democratic candidate.

Since all voters -- Republicans, Democrats and independents -- can participate, candidates who tend to represent the political center have a real shot at winning.

We believe voters got it right in adopting the top-two primary. We see great potential for the future as voters in Walla Walla County and around the state are more likely to find a reason to vote in the primary election.

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