In the airport city of SeaTac, a campaign backed by labor unions seeks to raise the minimum wage to $15 for many workers. In Whatcom County, an unprecedented amount of outside money is influencing an election that may shape whether the area becomes home to the largest coal shipping terminal on the West Coast. Statewide, voters will decide whether to put labels on genetically modified foods in a campaign that has drawn hefty donations from food industry businesses such as PepsiCo, Monsanto and General Mills.
Todd Donovan, a professor of political science at Western Washington University, said the unique thing about this year's ballot - which voters must postmark by Tuesday - is that a random assortment of campaigns has drawn so much attention from outside of the state as organizations seek to use this year's vote as leverage.
"Both sides are looking at what happens in Washington. It's going to make it harder or easier to advance their policy goals," Donovan said.
Not to be forgotten is the largest political race in the state: the campaign for Seattle mayor. Incumbent Mike McGinn and opponent Ed Murray, a state senator, have waded into national discussions about the minimum wage, coal and gun control. Meanwhile, a state Senate race that could shape the balance of power in the chamber has become the most expensive legislative contest in state history, with money coming from folks like California environmentalist Thomas Steyer.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman is forecasting a fairly average off-year voter turnout of 51 percent, well below the 81 percent last year when the presidential race and major issues like gay marriage and marijuana legalization were on the ballot.
Donovan said the issues this year have created an interesting dynamic. In Whatcom County, for example, voters in the county council race are weighing whether the proposed increase in coal trains through the region will add jobs, impact traffic and cause any local environmental issues.
But the coal industry and environmental groups that are funding the campaigns see something much bigger, Donovan said. To them, it's a battle over issues such as climate change and business.
"They're thinking globally, but here it's much more about how it affects people locally," Donovan said.
Meanwhile, labor groups have been pushing nationally this year for a $15 minimum wage, and the SeaTac initiative could provide those proponents a success story they can use as a foundation. The initiative to label genetically modified foods has become a $30 million campaign, with most of the money coming from food industry groups in opposition of the measure.