2012 elections review: Washington primary results still trickling in

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August 8, 2012

By Ballotpedia's Congressional and State legislative teams

The primary season continued yesterday with primaries in Washington.

Here's what happened in Washington, where races for State Senate, State House, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House were held.

Washington has a top-two primary system, in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party preference, go on to the general election.[1] Washington residents also vote primarily by mail; registered voters received their ballots in the mail before the election. Voters had the option to send their ballots via the mail, postmarked by Election Day, or to turn them in at a ballot drop-box or elections department by 8 p.m. on Election Day.[2]

Contested Primaries in Washington -- August 7, 2012
U.S. House
(10 seats)
State Legislature
(122 seats)
Total Contested Primaries 10 (100%) 28 (23%)


U.S. Senate

See also: United States House of Representatives elections in Washington, 2012

There is one Senate seat up for election in 2012. As a result of the blanket primary, incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell will face Republican Washington State Senator Michael Baumgartner in the general election on November 6, 2012.[3]

U.S. House

See also: United States Senate elections in Washington, 2012

There are ten seats up for election in November, including the newly formed 10th district. There are 7 incumbents running for re-election. Notably, Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee recently resigned from the U.S. House to run for Governor in 2012.[4] All 7 incumbents advanced past the blanket primary.

In the 1st district, Suzan DelBene and John Koster advanced to the general election in both the special primary election to finish out Jay Inslee's term and the primary for the next term.[5]

In the open 6th district seat, State Senator Derek Kilmer (D) advanced to the general election, along with Republican Bill Driscoll.[5]

In the newly formed 10th district, former state House Majority Leader Denny Heck (D) will face Republican Richard Muri in the general election.[5]

Members of the U.S. House from Washington -- Partisan Breakdown
Party As of November 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 5 6
     Republican Party 4 4
Total 9 10

State legislature

See also: Washington State Senate elections, 2012 and Washington House of Representatives elections, 2012

Heading in to blanket primary elections in the state legislature, Democrats held majorities in both the Washington House of Representatives and the Washington State Senate. The balance of power in these chambers had the potential to shift in these elections, as incumbents could be defeated in the blanket primary and two challengers would move forward to the general election.

There are 122 total legislative seats whose occupants will be determined in the November 6, 2012 elections. In the Senate, 24 members will be elected or re-elected to their seats, and 98 members will be elected or re-elected to the House.

There were 28 contested primaries across the state where the number of candidates outnumbers the number of slots available for the general election. The 28 consequential primaries represented 23.0 percent of possible primaries. This figure was slightly higher than the current national contested average of 19.38 percent for states that have had filing deadlines. Other primaries acted as quasi-previews of the general election, but these uncontested elections did not decide who will occupy the seat.[6][7]

Slow Counting and Early Returns

Washington's method of collecting ballots means that counting is a slow process. Some ballots may be postmarked for the appropriate day but not arrive until later. Prepping the ballots for counting may also be more labor-intensive in some cases than the ballots from in-person voting in other states, as ballots must be opened and inspected before being scanned. Also, the county elections offices must verify the signatures of those who have handed in their ballots, which usually takes about one day to do. Due to these delays, vote counts from the Washington state legislative primary are likely to remain incomplete until later in the week. The Secretary of State's office expects that almost all non-overseas and non-military ballots will be counted within two days.[8]

Based on the partial results, however, the likelihood of more than one incumbent losing his or her seat as a result of this primary election appears low. Only one seat, State Senate District 2 with 42 percent of precincts counted, has an incumbent within twenty percentage points of a challenger that could deny him a spot on the November ballot.[9]

Washington's blanket primary system generally creates more difficulty for those seeking to unseat incumbents in primary elections. With the top two vote-getters proceeding to the general election, an incumbent's vote total must be reduced to the third-highest in the field, as opposed to the second-highest in a potentially smaller field in a partisan primary.


There were four primaries in the State Senate races in which more than two candidates ran for the two slots available in the general election. Only one incumbent, Randi Becker (R), who has represented State Senate District 2 since 2008, appeared to be within striking distance of both of his opponents.[9]

Observers in Washington looked through the primary election results for clues as to whether the Republicans could gain three seats in the November elections and take control of the State Senate from the Democrats. Reporting from The Seattle Times examining early returns suggested that such an outcome was unlikely.[7]

Washington State Senate
Party As of November 5, 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 27 26
     Republican Party 22 23
Total 49 49


There were 24 primaries in the State House of Representatives races in which more than two candidates ran for two slots on the general election ballot.

Of these 24 primaries, ten incumbents faced challengers and could potentially lose their seats. However, with about half of all precincts reporting, the probability that any House incumbent loses their seat in the blanket primary appears low. Every contested incumbent garnered over 46 percent of the vote in early returns, and incumbents led their respective fields in all House primary races.[10]

Republicans would need to pick up eight seats to take control of the Washington House of Representatives from the Democrats. Reporting from The Seattle Times asserted that early vote totals from the blanket primary suggested a GOP takeover in November 2012 appeared unlikely.[7]

Washington House of Representatives
Party As of November 5, 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 56 55
     Republican Party 42 43
Total 98 98

See also

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