OLYMPIA – Washington will have a new, earlier presidential primary next year after the House passed the changes Monday and sent it to a person who’s trying to be on that ballot.
On a 54-42 vote, House Democrats overcame objections that the new primary will disenfranchise voters who don’t want to check a box to say they consider themselves a Democrat or Republican, at least for that election, to have their vote counted.
The bill already passed the Senate, and now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee, who declared Friday he was running for the Democratic nomination for president.
Unlike most past presidential primaries in Washington, voters won’t be given the option to mark an “unaffiliated” ballot. Washington voters haven’t registered by party since the 1930s, and all other primaries send the two top vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party. The bill passed Monday doesn’t change that.
But the tradition should be honored, Republicans said.
“Washington is an independent state,” said Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake.
“Give the voters of Washington what they want, the ability to vote in the presidential primary without declaring a party,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen. “This bill serves the interests of the political parties, not the interests of the voters of this state.”
But Democratic Party national rules require some statement of party affiliation in order for primary results to be used to award convention delegates. Even though the Legislature approved an initiative in 1989 for a Washington presidential primary, the Democrats continued the caucus process to award delegates. Republicans have used different combinations of caucus and primary results.
“What I’ve heard is people want to get away from caucuses,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila. “It is not a burden to suggest you have to be a member of a party to pick its standard bearer.”
“Why spend $12 million on a primary that won’t count?” said Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle.
Another problem that has relegated the Washington primary to relative unimportance is the date. Under the law created by the initiative, it falls on the fourth Tuesday in May, when both parties often have selected their nominees and most candidates on the ballot have dropped out of the race. The date can be moved, but only by a supermajority of a bipartisan commission.
The bill passed Monday moves the date to the second Tuesday in March, which this year would be a week after “Super Tuesday,” when 10 states will be holding primaries, and could set up a regional primary with Idaho and Oregon.
Two states have caucuses and two have primaries before Super Tuesday, and the field could be winnowed after those 14 contests, but Washington voters are mailed their ballots about three weeks before an election, so they’ll have them in hand during the most intense part of the presidential selection contests.
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