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Why you should vote this week — even if you’re on vacation

Exercising the franchise in Magnuson Park. Credit: King County Elections

Voters will make big choices in the primary election, helping to shape the immediate future of Seattle, the Legislature and the state's congressional politics. When all votes are counted, we could have a lot clearer idea of where Washington is headed on education, the environment and taxes in the next few years.

But just a small slice of the electorate will make the decisions. King County is forecasting that a mere 38 percent of voters will cast ballots by the time balloting ends at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Across the state, Secretary of State Kim Wyman is predicting a slightly higher turnout — 40 percent.

Mailed ballots must be postmarked Tuesday; ballots can also be returned as late as 8 p.m. to drop boxes and drop-off vans in King County. (Details here.)

Crosscut will be following the election results as the balloting ends and the results roll in Tuesday and beyond. Here are four keys to watch in the election.

1. The Battle Over the State Senate

What you should know: Republicans need to maintain control of the state Senate if they want a chance to shape policy. Democrats hope to regain a clear Senate majority, eliminating the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus that blocked Gov. Jay Inslee and the Democratically-controlled House from acting on many of their priorities.

Around the state, voting results will help determine what other races will be all-out battlegrounds this fall. Campaign donors use primary tallies to assess which candidates have a real chance, then use their money to influence those races.

This week's vote will determine whether Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat who played a key role in the Republican-led coalition, survives challenges from the right and left in his home 35th Legislative District on the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas. If he loses, look for the ultimate Survivor contest as each party battles for the seat in November.

In south Puget Sound's 31st District, Republican Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, is challenging longtime state Sen. Pam Roach, a fellow Republican, for her senate seat. Dahlquist says it's time to remove Roach and her confrontational tactics with colleagues, staff and constituents; Roach says she provides voters the strong representation they deserve.

Also keep an eye on Federal Way's 30th District, where Republican Mark Miloscia and Democrat Shari Song will be duking it out for a seat, and the Eastside's 45th District where incumbent Republican Andy Hill faces a challenge from Democrat Matt Isenhower.

Why you should care:

  • You care about schools and social services: Control of the Senate will determine spending on school improvements ordered by the state Supreme Court. Generally, Democrats have supported raising new revenue, while Republicans have put their political muscle into cutting other programs.
  • You care about how we pay for services: Republicans have generally opposed tax hikes and elimination of businesses' tax breaks. Democrats have tried to eliminate a number of the breaks and talked about possbile tax or fee increases. 
  • You want to get somewhere: The parties have deadlocked for more than a year over whether to create a transportation package financed with a 10 to 12 cent gas tax hike over five years. (Currently, it's 37.5 cents a gallon.) They have also argued over whether to send the proposal directly to voters. And, of course, over what to pay for in the way of highways, bridges and ferry services.

Gov. Jay Inslee has been repeatedly frustrated by gridlock on transportation, climate change proposals and quicker school improvements. He could spend his entire first term largely stymied by Senate Republicans. If that happens, Republicans will see an opportunity in the 2016 elections to regain control of the governor's office for the first time since losing the 1984 election.

2. The Future of Seattle Parks

What you should know: Voters in Seattle are deciding on Proposition 1, a measure to create a new Metropolitan Parks District that would help supplement funding for city parks and other recreational programs. The district would replace the expiring parks levy with a new, modestly increased property tax. The district would be overseen by a Parks District board, which will be made up of Seattle City Council members. 

Critics are worried that Prop 1 allows members of the Metropolitan Parks District Board (ie. the City Council) to impose large tax hikes in the future without voter review. They also worry about separating a Parks District from the initiative process, eliminating voters' abilities to make changes or change their mind about the district down the line.

Supporters see a need for assuring reliable financing of parks facilities and programs, which they say fits city residents' historic support for parks levies. The money would also take some pressure off of city budgeting for other programs.

Why you should care: 

  • Parks 'R Us. It's Seattle. Parks have long been part of the city's very identity.
  • The city's population is growing: As the city gets denser, parks may be more important than ever to our quality of life. Does the density beloved by environmental groups work without a place to get outside and relax? 
  • The money's going to come from somewhere. Even if we agree that we want better parks, we have to decide how to pay: Do city residents want to assure continued better funding with a modest tax increase now and the potential for more in the future? Or do they prefer to see parks continue to compete with other services in the city's general fund budget and at the ballot box in occasional levy proposals? 

3. Congressional Contests

What you should know: Yes, we know the U.S. Congress isn't exactly a favorite subject these days, with public approval ratings stuck at historically low levels, but outcomes of this election will set the stage for the 2016 presidential election and what could be an even bigger fight for congressional control that year. Even this year, Democrats could lose control of the U.S. Senate. For better or worse, most of Washington's incumbent House Representatives are absolutely secure this year, but there are two big races to watch.

In central Washington's Fourth Congressional District, 12 people are running for the seat long-held by Rep. Doc Hastings, who is retiring. It's been a safe Republican seat, and the leading Republican contenders include state Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, former state Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse, ex-National Football League standout Clint Didier and Kennewick attorney George Cicotte. There are just two Democrats, so vote splitting among Republicans could allow one of the D's — likely former congressional aide Estakio Beltran — to make it to the top two contest in November. 

Closer to Seattle, Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft executive serving her first term in D.C., faces a challenge from Republican Pedro Celis, a former Microsoft engineer and Hispanic community leader. The closeness of the primary race may indicate whether Celis has a strong chance in the district, which stretches from Eastside tech areas north to the Canadian border.

Why you should care: 

  • It's Congress: That's where the nation establishes its laws, determines budgets and solves its problems — or not. 
  • It's Congress: The members represent us and our wishes. We want capable people doing that. Or at least people who won't embarrass us.
  • It's Congress: No matter how badly the members are performing, the institution deserves some respect — right?

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