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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Grant greater primary participation

For an election that didn’t matter, Washington’s presidential primary drew impressive participation. That should be a sign to legislators that an election that did have consequences would draw more attention.

The Secretary of State’s Office reported a participation rate of 35 percent, which doesn’t include voters who missed the deadline or sent in invalid ballots.

But this year’s race was bedeviled with setbacks.

First, voters had to designate a party. This peeved many people in a state that’s known for having an independent electorate, especially when they discovered their choice was visible on the outside of the envelope. Some voters tore up their ballots, because they didn’t want to make a public declaration of party choice.

Second, the late date of the primary, May 24, rendered the results moot. The Republican contest was already decided. Four candidates were on the ballot, but all but Donald Trump had dropped out at that point. Hillary Clinton was close to wrapping up the race on the Democratic side.

Third, the Democrats chose to use March 26 caucuses to determine delegates, rather than the $11.5 million primary, which ended up with seven times more participants.

As she did last year, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman is calling on the Legislature to move the presidential primary to early March to draw more candidates and voters.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because then-Secretary of State Ralph Munro urged the same thing in 1995. He said back then, “Our ultimate goal is to develop a primary that will draw candidates to campaign here and learn about issues that are important to our region,” he said. “We’re trying to build a system that encourages all Washington citizens to take part in selecting nominees for the highest office in the country.”

Wyman also wants there to be an outlet for voters who don’t want to designate a party. “I would suggest that lawmakers consider adding an unaffiliated ballot, to satisfy the concerns of many voters who didn’t want to be forced to designate a party choice. This was an option in the past,” she said in a news release.

As voters showed in the just-completed primary, they want to cast a vote. Many voters wrote in a candidate or scribbled a protest message, knowing their ballots would be discarded.

The Idaho Legislature adopted the party designation requirement and sprung it on voters in 2012. It was roundly jeered, because independents make up the largest voting bloc. But political parties run legislatures, and they don’t like people crossing over to determine their presidential nominees.

Voters crave participation in presidential primaries, but if the parties won’t give in and make it more meaningful, then the parties should pick up the entire cost of selecting their nominees.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

This is a corrected version of the editorial than was published on June 16.
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