Voters in Seattle and King County are gearing up for the end of the electoral season, a lengthy — and expensive! — period in which candidates try to convince the public that they are the right person to lead government for the next four years.
Candidates have serious competition for voters’ attention and zeal for the democratic process. That’s particularly true in the region’s odd-year election cycle, which means the public rolled from the drama of the 2020 national campaign straight into local elections, which are arguably as consequential but don’t tend to command the same degree of participation.
But elections have consequences, and local organizations have been working overtime to not just encourage people to register to vote and fill out their ballots but be informed when they do it. That’s even more challenging this year than usual because of the pandemic, which limited groups’ abilities to engage in traditional “get out the vote” activities.
However, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) put its emphasis on voter education and registration, targeting its outreach toward community partners, including homeless services providers throughout the county.
The big emphasis for SKCCH this year is on day centers, food banks and other kinds of resources where people experiencing homelessness gather during the day, in part because the pandemic limited the amount of in-person work that they could accomplish and that volunteers felt comfortable signing up for.
There’s still a good amount of old-fashioned voter education that has to happen to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote knows that they can participate in this aspect of civic life, said Jody Rauch, program manager at SKCCH.
“Part of what we really want to do is dispel myths that you have to have a home to be a voter,” Rauch said. “You can register with an address where you spend most of your time in the area of the county or city that feels most like home to you.”
Many people also erroneously think that a past felony conviction automatically means that they no longer have the right to vote, when in fact people are often eligible after they are no longer under the authority of the Department of Corrections, Rauch said.
“We want to get that message out so that folks can be aware of that,” she said.
It’s a problem that Maya Manus with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle also encounters during her organization’s voter education efforts. People with a criminal history hear about the rules in other places, and it can discourage them from voting, Manus said.
“A judge most likely told them when it was not allowed that they’ll never get their voting rights back,” Manus said.
The other major issue is making sure that people know that there is an election on at all.
The Urban League is putting its focus on first-time voters and getting young people involved in the process by targeting people up to 30. Young people put on their own mayoral forum in which the two candidates took questions directly from youth and were not allowed to interact with their opponent so that the audience could hear their positions in their own words.
Success, to Manus, would be empowering voters to participate in higher numbers than usual — only 49 percent of King County voters returned their ballots in the 2019 general election, compared to 87 percent in 2020 when the presidential candidates were on the ticket.
While electoral politics are not the only way to participate in civic life, they are critical to historically underrepresented communities. That’s something Krystal Marx knows well. Marx heads up Seattle Pride, an organization that coordinates and promotes events for the LGBTQ+ community.
Vote with Pride runs weekly quizzes that teach people about the different elected offices, from basic information like who’s the governor to the function of a City Council. Prizes include Alaska Airlines tickets and Vote with Pride swag, Marx said.
The organization also puts together a Seattle Pride Voter’s Guide, which ranks candidates on a scale of zero to four pride flags based on their answers to a questionnaire. The goal is to make sure that voters know where candidates stand on key issues that impact their community and make their voices heard at the ballot box.
“When you start to relax, that’s when your liberties and your rights can be eroded,” Marx said. “That’s what our community is kind of used to.”
The last minute to get your ballot in is Nov. 2 at 8 p.m.
Ashley Archibald is a freelance journalist and former Real Change staff reporter. Her work can be found in the South Seattle Emerald, KNKX and the Urbanist.
Read more of the Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2021 issue.