As we scrutinize the primary election results for clues to the general election outcome, let’s keep one key fact in mind: Thousands of people who took a pass on the primary balloting will show up to vote in November.
At least, that’s what recent history would lead us to expect.
In 2007, when the scramble for the open Bellingham mayor’s office was the big newsmaker, the city primary turnout was 35.32 percent. But in November, 55.5 percent of voters went to the polls to elect Dan Pike as mayor.
In the 2003 primary, when incumbent Mark Asmundson got 28 percent of the vote in the mayor’s race, the city voter turnout was 37.8 percent of those registered. In November, 52.1 percent of city voters turned out to give Asmundson another term over Bret Bonner, who had outpolled Asmundson in the primary.
The absence of a hotly-contested county executive race in 2003 and 2007 likely helped to depress the countywide turnout: there was no primary balloting for county executive in either of those years, and Pete Kremen faced no robust challenge in the general election either.
For the Aug. 16, 2011 primary, with four well-known candidates vying for the chance to replace Kremen, the countywide turnout was 37.1 percent–significantly higher than the two previous comparable primary elections: 31.5 percent in 2003 and 30.5 percent in 2007. But it remains likely that the November turnout will be a lot closer to 50 percent. The general election turnout, countywide, was 48.3 percent in 2003 and 53.7 percent in 2007. (Those figures include the city votes.)