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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

State GOP will award presidential delegates with primary

For the first time in history, the Washington Republican Party will award all presidential delegates based on the state primary results.

A decision by the Republican State Committee simplifies the GOP selection process compared to some previous years, but may complicate the understanding for the average voter because the state will have two different systems at play in the presidential selection process. Washington Democrats will ignore primary results and award presidential delegates based on the results of their caucuses, to be held March 26.

The GOP will hold caucuses on Feb. 20 as the first step in a process that involves county conventions in March and April, and a state Convention May 19-21, where delegates will be elected to attend the national convention in Cleveland. But the presidential primary currently is set for May 24, which means the delegates to the national convention would be selected before the breakdown for individual candidates is known.

Based on previous presidential contests, it also means voters could cast ballots after the nominee has been decided.

State Republican Chairman Susan Hutchison said the party will try to convince the state's primary commission to move the election up to March 8, as Secretary of State Kim Wyman proposed this summer. The commission rejected that proposal last month when Democrats on the panel voted no. The change requires a super-majority, and Republicans could renew the request but any change must happen by Oct. 1.

Wyman, a Republican, praised the state GOP’s decision as “a big win for the voters.”

“Our main goal should be giving a voice to the broadest possible swath of the electorate,” she said.

Prior to 1992, both parties in Washington selected their presidential delegates solely through the caucus system. After the Legislature approved an initiative in 1989, the Democrats have consistently refused to use its results to award delegates, while Republicans have usually split their delegates between the caucus results and the primary results.

For 2016, national Republican rules do not allow Washington to split the way it selects delegates between the two systems.

Even if the primary is held May 24, Hutchison believes the GOP field is so large that four or five candidates could still be in the race for the nomination at that late date. Sixteen Republicans have announced presidential campaigns, although one candidate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, dropped out last week.

Party activists typically attend a precinct caucus supporting a particular candidate and move through the convention system based on that candidate's strength at each level. The final list of national convention delegates is chosen at the state convention.

In 2016, Washington's Republican delegates to the national convention will still be elected at that state meeting, but they won't be pledged to a particular candidate in the first round of balloting in Cleveland. Instead, candidates’ votes will be divided among the top primary finishers in the state and each congressional district, based on a formula set by the national committee. Those numbers will be announced at the podium in the roll call of the states. After the first round of balloting, they would be able to vote for any candidate they choose – if there is another round.

 Republicans haven't had more than one round of balloting at their national convention since 1948. But with an unprecedented number of candidates, it could happen again in 2016, Hutchison said.

Because the primary ballot must be prepared and printed about three months before the election, it's likely some candidates will have dropped out by election day if the date doesn’t change, she said. Voters can still show support for a candidate who has dropped out, or vote for their second choice, she said.

Democrats, who have opposed the presidential primary since its inception in Washington, will ignore the primary results but the primary ballot will have the names of Democratic candidates in the race when ballots are printed.

The cost of the statewide vote, which includes the printing and mailing of a voters guide as well as the printing and mailing of ballots, is about $11 million. When Democrats blocked the effort last month to move the primary to March, they suggested the state cancel that election, as it did in 2004 and 2012, to save the money the Legislature has set aside in the 2015-17 operating budget.

That's still an option for the Legislature when it meets early next year and revises the budget. But Hutchison said she thought it unlikely, considering the Senate has a Republican majority.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.