WALLA WALLA -- A bevy of new voters apparently helped steer Valley Transit toward a more stable future in last month's special election.
Nearly a month after voters approved a sales-tax increase to support the community's floundering public transportation system, elections officials have broken down the figures and say new voter registration was a key piece in the campaign.
Between Oct. 15 and Feb. 1, 560 people registered to vote, said county Auditor Karen Martin. Of those, 480 were residents in the transportation district. Of those, 390 voted.
That figure is a shadow compared to the 27,000 ballots mailed out to voters, Martin acknowledged. But it's huge when you consider the full-throttle effort by Valley Transit supporters to rev up turnout for the issue.
"It seems like they got out and did quite a bit of campaigning," Martin said. "Those people that are newly registered must have had an interest in that election."
While a number of those who registered in that period may be new voters or have changed addresses, Martin said there's evidence that many of them were prompted by outreach from Valley Transit proponents.
The campaign made copies of the voter registration forms with information about the sales-tax proposal on the other side. When the forms were submitted, staff members could see which people registering were receiving the Valley Transit information.
"It's the first time to my knowledge that someone's ever copied a voter registration form to put their information on," Martin said this week.
For future reference, staff frowns on that practice, Martin added. Since the voter registration card is a public record, it should be free from any political messages that promote a point of view. "It's kind of a privacy issue to a point," she said.
After checking with the Secretary of State's office, however, the registrations were processed. "We would have probably had a lot of disenfranchised people if we'd sent them back," Martin explained.
"We want them to register and we want them to vote. That's the main thing."
In the end almost 53 percent of registered voters submitted their ballots -- a huge jump from the customary 30 to 40 percent who participate in special elections in the county.
With more than 76 percent approval on the sales-tax measure, Martin said the outcome was likely more reflective of the desires of the people.
"I'd rather see this than 30 percent of the people vote and have a 60 percent majority," she said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.