Question: Which Washington county votes consistently over 70 percent Democrat?
A. King County.
B. Jefferson County.
C. San Juan County.
Answer: All of the above.
Sure, King County’s votes make far more difference in statewide votes. The combined 2022 turnout in Jefferson and San Juan Counties was about 32,000, which is barely three percent of the King County turnout. But, for the record, the backwoods provinces around Port Townsend and Friday Harbor are as dependably blue as Seattle.
Take last month’s vote for the US Senate: King County cast some 900,000 votes, 74 percent going to Democrat Patty Murray. Jefferson cast 21,000, 72 percent of them Democrat. San Juan’s 11,000 votes went 73 percent Democrat.
Those margins exceed blue-leading counties like Pierce and Snohomish where Democrats generally get majorities in the mid 50s.
Port Townsend has not always been blue. When George Yount arrived from Snohomish County in the early 1980s, Port Townsend was still a sleepy mill town populated by blue collar fishermen, loggers and pulp mill workers. At the time, Yount was a Republican, and the state GOP was arguably the more liberal – especially on issues of the environment. Two of the three Jefferson County commissioners were Republican, as were most other local officials.
“But the locals were pretty conservative,” he recalls. “I went to a Republican Party meeting and I was shocked. They truly were to the right of Attila the Hun.”
But Port Townsend was beginning to change. Artists, musicians and writers were moving in, drawn by the climate, affordable housing and the end-of-the-road culture. And they tended to vote more liberal than the locals.
As the Republican Party shifted, then tumbled right, Yount switched parties and eventually became chair of the Jefferson County Democrats. Along the way, the county has grown increasingly blue, favoring Joe Biden by three to one over Trump in 2020.
For better or worse, this translates to local politics, characterized by devout environmentalists who buy organic foods and march for everything from abortion rights and gun control to bans on grocery bags and aquaculture.
The same goes for San Juans, where islanders vote even bluer than Jefferson.
This seems to conflict with the conventional wisdom that Republicans thrive in small towns. Statistically, Jefferson is as rural and sparsely populated as any county west of the Cascades. It’s dominated by a town of just 10,000 people and about the same number of black-tail deer. Port Townsend is overwhelming white, increasingly populated by affluent retirees who are supposed to vote conservative.
But not here. Whether they’ve retreated to PT or the San Juans, the mostly affluent retirees on both sides of the Strait cling to their liberal, urban sensibilities. And they vote accordingly.