Want to be heard? Vote

No need to preach the above to Bainbridge Islanders. Especially this year, when the island’s Democrat-dominated constituents figure to cast their ballots in unprecedented numbers. It’s a presidential general election year, of course, which usually means more people vote than usual. Plus, Sen. Barack Obama is a local favorite on an island where the number of registered voters for Tuesday’s election is bordering on unbelievable.

Of the estimated 23,200 island residents, 17,091 are registered to vote. There are some 3,800 students (a small percentage are 18 years old and eligible to vote) in our public schools; a couple hundred more students attend private schools; and hundreds more are too young to attend.

So, roughly that means between 1,500 and 2,000 “adult” residents have not registered. It makes you wonder how they escaped when considering this year’s concentrated registration drive on the island and a presidential election that promises to be important for a country at the crossroads in many ways.

Kitsap County officials estimate conservatively that 80 percent of the county’s registered voters will cast a ballot, which is up from the 68 percent that voted in 2006 but a precipitous drop from the 86 percent that voted in 2004 when the gubernatorial and presidential races were equally as heated as are the current ones. Bainbridge had voter turnouts of 78 and 86 in 2004 and 2006, respectively, and there’s a strong indication that Tuesday’s turnout will match or exceed those percentages.

The trend toward Bainbridge being a large factor in county politics continues, primarily because of the amount of voter turnout and because the island has gradually become a Democratic stronghold during the last 20 years. This is especially true when voting for 23rd Legislative District candidates. The north part of the county tends to be more liberal anyway, with the more conservative Bremerton and Port Orchard sitting in the 26th District.

But with all those registered voters, Bainbridge’s ability to affect the outcome of a race in the 23rd cannot be overestimated. That’s especially true when the candidate lives here and is a Democrat, though the island has been kind to Rep. Sherry Appleton since the Poulsbo resident left the Republican Party for the Democrats.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the island’s powerful voting block is the 2006 election of Rep. Christine Rolfes, who, in a race against three-term incumbent Beverly Woods, a Kingston Republican, outpolled her opponent on the island by 5,514 votes (with a total of 12,210 votes cast). Rolfes lost by about 1,000 votes off-island, but won by more than 4,000 votes because of her draw here.

And 2008 figures to play out similarly for Bainbridge Democrats, with islanders Rofles, Sen. Phil Rockefeller and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee expected to win easily (Appleton, too). Republicans believe the trend will eventually swing back their way, but they are not sitting on their hands waiting for it to happen. They haven’t given up on Bainbridge, but they realize they’ll have to come up with some strong off-island Republicans to regain the 23rd District seats.

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