King County’s Nov. 2023 elections not only perpetuated a trend of low voter turnout in odd-year elections, but were on par with Washington’s lowest voter turnout in state history — with King County just hitting over 37%.
Although this low-trending voter turnout spread across the Snoqualmie Valley, North Bend became the exception to the rule, with one of the highest voter turnouts in the county.
King County Elections found voter trends typically show communities like Seattle or North Bend often reporting a few points higher than the rest of the county at large, said Halei Watkins, communications manager.
This year, North Bend experienced a significant spike in voter participation compared to many other cities, with almost 55% of registered voters returning their ballot, according to King County Elections results.
The answer to why North Bend had a higher voter turnout compared to the rest of the county and neighboring Snoqualmie, nearing 33%, and Carnation, nearing 48%, is not a perfect one.
While voter turnout is never based on just one thing, person or organization, Watkins said she often looks to see if the content of the ballot tells a story about the voting trends.
“One thing that always piques my interest when we’re talking about turnout is, what is on the ballot and what are folks voting for?” she said. “When there are exciting things on the ballot or high-profile things, we do tend to see more folks turn out to vote.”
The North Bend ballot included a few city council races, a mayoral race and a widely deliberated measure regarding community pool reconstruction.
The four city council seats up for grabs did not end in closely contested races, with two candidates running unopposed.
However, a race of greater prominence was the mayoral race between the incumbent mayor, Rob McFarland, and his opponent, Mary Miller. The margin was slim, with only 125 votes separating the two candidates, ultimately leading to Miller becoming the mayor-elect.
“That certainly could have driven some folks out,” Watkins noted when analyzing votes between the two candidates.
Another possible factor in high voter turnout — that could meet the high-profile status Watkins mentioned — is the measure issuing a $21.3 million bond to re-construct the 85-year-old aquatic facility and community pool in North Bend.
This measure, requiring a 60% approval rate to pass, fell short, with about 56% of voters approving the measure, according to election data.
Although the substance of the ballot can impact voter turnout, Watkins noted communities with higher voter turnout in the county tend to be more established in life.
“So folks with more education, higher incomes, homeownership and those who are kind of middle and later aged are all more likely to turn out to vote,” she said.
Some of these factors Watkins mentioned align with the demographic in North Bend, such as the median age of the population almost reaching 40 years old, according to Census data, which only intakes information solely from people who responded to the survey.
The 2022 data revealed that home ownership in North Bend exceeded 73%, nearly 17% higher than the overall homeownership rate in King County.
Watkins noted that individuals in their middle-aged years tend to have established residences, often making them more inclined to participate in voting, in contrast to transitory populations, which have a higher concentration of young people.
“Ten years ago, when I was fresh out of college and moving around, I wasn’t as regular of a voter as I am now,” she said. “I know I’m not alone in that.”
While a combination of demographics and ballot measures may provide insight into North Bend’s notably high voter turnout in November and in the past, Miller attributed the results, in part, to residents investing in their city.
“Voter turnout this last fall is one of many examples of the civic participation I see on a regular basis, both as mayor and as a resident,” Miller said in an email. “It shows in so many ways – be it through the support we see for community events and thriving local businesses, as well as the appreciation and love shown to North Bend parks and open spaces.”