I would loved to have gone along to a polling station here in Seattle to give you guys an on the ground perspective of an American primary contest, but sadly it is not possible. In King County, which encompasses the city of Seattle, all voting is conducted by mail. In the biggest city in the state, this election will play out at kitchen tables and through postboxes, not in school halls and community centres.
It’s a shame, because I visited a station in Washington’s Whatcom County for the 2004 Presidential election, and found it fascinating. The lines were long, though nowhere near as long as in parts of swing states like Ohio or Florida. The vote was conducted using a rather complex punch card system not dissimilar from the one that caused so much trouble in Palm Beach County in 2000. The polling officials even indulged my request to try a sample ballot on one of their machines. After my experimental attempt, I began to sympathise with the Floridians who found the ballot confusing.
Perhaps this is a reason to recommend mail-in ballots like those used in King County. It seems likely that letting voters cast their votes from home would reduce the chance of error. Allowing people to vote whenever they find time rather than requiring them to show up to a specific place on a specific day also seems an excellent way to bolster turnout. Mail-in voting is popular out west — many parts of Oregon also use it — and while I usually find American voting innovations to be wacky and overly complex (e.g. touch screens), this seems a logical way to improve efficiency and participation.
As for the returns this evening, I meant to mention this in my earlier post today, but it slipped my mind until I saw this Politico article: the thing to watch out for in tonight’s results will be the proportion of the vote Senate candidates Patty Murray (D) and Dino Rossi (R) get. These are an imperfect predictor of the general election result, as Republicans will likely be more motivated to vote in this primary than Democrats, considering they have a more competitive field to choose from. Likewise, though Rossi is expected to win, he might pick up support in November he didn’t have today, from voters who back the Sarah Palin-endorsed Clint Didier but would still vote for Rossi in a two-way contest against Murray. Even so, this will give us an insight into what kind of chance the Republican Party has of swinging Senate seats that in a usual cycle would be safe for the Democrats.