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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Parties win as earlier Washington primaries get shelved

The presidential primaries are over in Washington, and winners are again the parties, and particularly the Democratic Party.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s effort to make a Washington primary relevant next year has gone nowhere, although her bill, SB 5978, was held over for consideration during the special session.

A law allowing for primaries in late May is already on the books, but in two of the last three presidential elections voting was canceled because polling would have been pointless.

Democrats pick all their delegates to the national party convention using local caucuses and the state convention. Republicans split their delegate choices: one-half by caucus, one-half by primary.

The primary largely becomes a sideshow – Wyman calls it a “beauty contest” – that comes with an $11.5 million tab.

And with the voting now set so late in the primary season, it may be all over but the shouting. Mitt Romney secured the Republican Party delegates he needed in 2012 by May 29. Washington might be counting votes into June if the results are close.

An earlier primary might put Washington back on the map. Now, candidates treat Western Washington as a piggy bank, and Eastern Washington as flyover country.

Moving Washington voting up to March would put the state just behind the Super Tuesday multistate primary, the first the parties allow after the sacrosanct Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

The leverage possible with early voting was not inducement enough for the parties, even with the knowledge that separate primaries would force voters to declare party allegiance, exposing them to party recruitment and fundraising campaigns.

The national Democratic Party insists on its caucus/convention process. Allocating even one delegate according to primary results would constitute double voting: once at the polls and again at the caucuses. Hearing witnesses in Olympia also said the state was interfering with party delegate freedom of association.

They also warned against crossover voting and other possible mischief by members of the opposite party.

Wyman points to the huge discrepancy in participation rates between primaries (42 percent in 2008) and caucuses (3 percent), although she and bill sponsor Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, recognized the importance to the parties of keeping engaged the activists who do the grunt work come election time.

Unstated was the fact that it is the activists on the left and right wings of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, who have contributed to the polarization and paralysis in government today.

Wyman’s effort might have been quixotic given the determination of the Democrats to stick to their caucus ways, especially in a state so predictably Democratic: She’s the only Republican holding statewide office.

But we share her frustration that Washington remains a bit player in the presidential nomination process.