By Rachel La Corte
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Democratic incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican challenger Bill Bryant easily advanced through Washington’s primary to the November ballot Tuesday night, as did Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and opponent Republican Chris Vance, though a number of other statewide races remained too close to call as ballots in the state’s all-mail election are expected to arrive throughout the week.
Voters were narrowing their choices in dozens of federal, statewide and local races, with last-minute voters dropping their ballots at drop off boxes around the state before the 8 p.m. deadline.
In early returns Tuesday night in the state’s top two primary, Inslee had 49 percent of the vote and Bryant had 38 percent. Murray advanced with 54 percent of the vote and Vance had 28 percent.
Results in many other races may take days to determine as the ballots arrive in elections offices throughout the week. The next batch of results will be posted by counties Wednesday afternoon.
“By Friday, you should pretty much know the top two finishers in all the races,” said David Ammons, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.
All 10 of the state’s U.S. House seats are also on the ballot, including Seattle’s solidly Democratic 7th District, which is an open seat after Jim McDermott decided to retire after serving 14 two-year terms in Congress. That race has drawn nine candidates, including Democratic Sen. Pramila Jayapal, Democratic Rep. Brady Walkinshaw and Metropolitan King County Councilman Joe McDermott, no relation to Jim McDermott. Jayapal, with 38 percent of the vote, advanced to the November ballot, and Walkinshaw and Joe McDermott were fighting for the second slot, with each receiving about 21 percent.
Incumbents are running in the rest of the races in the state’s congressional delegation, where Democrats hold six of the seats, and Republicans hold four.
The open seat for lieutenant governor also has drawn a large group of 11 candidates, including three Democratic state senators. Early returns showed Democratic Sen. Cyrus Habib and Republican Marty McClendon both sitting atop the crowd, with 20 percent each.
Other open statewide races include: auditor, lands commissioner, treasurer and superintendent of public instruction.
The fact that of the nine statewide offices on the ballot, five have open seats — without an incumbent — injects a different dynamic into the election, said Cornell Clayton, a political science professor at Washington State University.
“You have so many more candidates from both parties than you would normally have,” he said. “When you have incumbents, it tends to dampen the competition.”
More than 4 million of the state’s registered voters started receiving their ballots in the mail weeks ago for the top-two primary, in which the top two vote-getters advance to the November ballot, regardless of party.
Eric Chase, who dropped off his ballot at the Thurston County Courthouse, said he was “rather disgusted” by the whole election cycle this year.
Chase, a social sciences professor at South Puget Sound Community College, had supported Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He said presidential primary politics — especially the fact that superdelegates backed Hillary Clinton even though Sanders won the state’s caucuses — impacted how he voted in state races.
“A lot of our superdelegates are running for re-election,” he said.
Voters also weighed in on legislative races, with all 98 state House seats and 26 of the Senate’s 49 seats on the ballot. Republicans currently control the Senate, and Democrats control the House, both by narrow margins.
In 78 of the 124 legislative races on the ballot, there’s no real contest in the primary. Twenty-seven races are unopposed, and in 51 seats, only two candidates are running, all of whom will automatically advance to November.
Because Chief Justice Barbara Madsen faces more than one challenger, hers is the only state Supreme Court race on the primary ballot. Madsen advanced Tuesday night with 64 percent of the vote, as did Kittitas County Prosecutor Greg Zempel, with 29 percent of the vote.
Justices Mary Yu and Charlie Wiggins each have just one challenger so they won’t appear on the ballot until the general election, along with the top two advancers from Madsen’s race.
As of Tuesday night, nearly 24 percent of voters had returned their ballots. The secretary of state’s office has estimated a 41 percent turnout rate.
Chase said he’s not surprised by the low turnout so far.
“There’s a high level of nonparticipation because people have a bad taste in their mouths,” he said.
Sandra Kozlowski, a 54-year-old chemical dependency counselor who dropped off her ballot at the Olympia courthouse, said she thinks voters are so polarized by the presidential race they are forgetting the importance of voting on state and local races.