Voter Participation in Pierce County
Total voter turnout in Pierce County was very high in 2008 due to the presence of Barack Obama on the ballot. Partisan races had higher voter participation than non-partisan races. Contested races had higher voter participation than uncontested races. Since there were no uncontested Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) races, voter participation in partisan county level races increased from 2004 to 2008.
Partisan versus non-partisan races
In Pierce County, every statewide partisan race had higher voter participation than every statewide non-partisan race. At the county level, every partisan race had higher voter participation than every non-partisan race. This was particularly evident in the Assessor-Treasurer race which shifted from being partisan to non-partisan between 2004 and 2008. In the 2008 Assessor-Treasurer race, voter participation fell to a level between the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the judicial races.
It appears as if there are voters who will vote for a candidate simply based on the partisan affliation and who skip non-partisan races where they don't know the candidates.
Number of Candidates
In November 2004, there were five State Representative elections and two County Council elections in Pierce County which had just one candidate on the ballot. In November 2008, all of these races had two or three candidates on the November ballot. All of these races experienced significant increases in voter participation. This is not surprising since many voters skip uncontested races with just one candidate on the ballot.
In the 26th State Legislative District, there were three candidates on the ballot in each State Representative race in 2004. In 2008, there were only two candidates on the November ballot. Undervotes increased in these races.
In most of the statewide races, we saw an increase in undervotes from 2004 to 2008. We also saw most statewide and countywide races increase turnout as measured by percent of registered voters, but decrease as a percent of the presidential vote. One reason for this is the significant number of voters who just voted for President in 2008.
Another reason is the move to the Top 2 which restricts the numbers of candidates on the ballot in November. In 2004, there were at least three candidates on the ballot in most races. This appears to have allowed more voters to express their views.
Since there were no uncontested partisan RCV races, on average those partisan county level races moving to RCV experienced an increase in voter participation.
Voter participation is heavily driven by the excitement of a Presidential race. Down ballot partisan races experience higher voter participation than down ballot non-partisan races. Uncontested races generally do not experience high voter turnout. RCV generally has more candidates and fewer uncontested races. Eliminating the partisan/non-partisan and uncontested race effects, there was little difference in voter turnout between Top 2 and RCV elections in 2008.