Washington voters have a chance Tuesday to voice a preference in the race for the White House in the state’s presidential primary.
It’s a special election with special rules that was specially scheduled for March 26 in an attempt to affect the presidential race.
But with an incumbent Democrat seeking re-election unopposed and a Republican race that mathematically has been decided, the spotlight on the race is dimmed.
However, President Clinton cares enough about votes in November to have visited the state twice this year.
GOP front-runner Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and his chief challenger, Pat Buchanan, care about their final tallies Tuesday. Dole campaigned in the Puget Sound area over the weekend, and Buchanan will visit Spokane tonight.
Here’s a brief primary primer for Tuesday’s election.
Why hold the primary now?
A state law originally scheduled the primary in May, but history has shown that month to be too late to affect the presidential selection process. So Secretary of State Ralph Munro moved the vote to March 26 to coincide with the California primary. California has the largest block of delegates, and many political observers thought the Republican race would not be decided until after that state had held its primary.
Is either race in doubt?
Not anymore. Clinton has a majority of delegates for the Democratic Party’s nomination. By most tallies, Dole also has the number of delegates he needs. Buchanan and other Republicans still in the race, such as Alan Keyes, still are campaigning and could retain a block of delegates at the national convention if they remain in the race. While they cannot be nominated, those candidates can have an impact on platform discussions if they have enough delegates attending the convention.
What’s different about this primary?
In Washington state, where voters do not register by party, primaries usually are open - that is, voters are given a single ballot with the names of all candidates on it. But in this election, voters will be given a choice among three ballots: a Republican ballot with the names of GOP candidates; a Democratic ballot with the names of Clinton and self-proclaimed Democrat Lyndon Larouche; and a general ballot that has all the names of both parties’ candidates. A voter can request any of the three ballots. By choosing a party’s ballot, the voter is saying that at least for that particular day, he or she is a member of that party.
Why the different ballots?
The two political parties have said they will consider the results of only the ballots cast by people who say they are members of their party. They will not consider the results of the general ballots.
Why choose a general ballot?
Washington state has a long tradition of open primaries, and many voters believe their party affiliation, if they have one, is private. The general ballot allows those voters to cast ballots.
Didn’t the state hold caucuses earlier this month as a step in the process of selecting presidential candidates?
Both parties held precinct caucuses on March 5, which were the beginning of their delegate-selection process. Democrats will use the caucuses - and later county and state conventions - to choose delegates, but they say they will be “guided” by the results of the presidential primary. Republicans will allocate half of their delegates based on the results of the primary and half on the basis of their caucus and convention process.
Can I vote in the primary if I did not attend the caucuses?