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News >  WA Government

Secretary of State will vote in presidential primary but not declare her party, so it won’t count

Feb. 26, 2020 Updated Wed., Feb. 26, 2020 at 8:52 p.m.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman poses for a photo at the Capitol in Olympia on May 4, 2016. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman poses for a photo at the Capitol in Olympia on May 4, 2016. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Secretary of State Kim Wyman is a known and acknowledged Republican, but said she won’t check a party box on the envelope for her presidential primary ballot.

She’ll mark the ballot and send it in, but knows it won’t count and will spoil her perfect voting record.

Her decision drew criticism from Washington Democratic Party Chairwoman Tina Podlodowski, who accused her of trying to hide her and her party’s support for President Donald Trump.

“She can’t can’t hide from her affiliation with a president who separates families and locks children in cages simply by not voting,” said Podlodowski, who added that Wyman voted in the Republican presidential primaries in 2008 and 2016.

Wyman said it’s not an attempt to duck her party, but this presidential primary is different than previous ones.

“I’ve never supported publicly any presidential candidate,” Wyman, the state’s top election official, said Wednesday. “I never come out and say publicly where I am on an issue.”

That includes initiatives handled by her office, even though Republicans sometimes want her to support or reject them.

This year’s Republican ballot has only one choice, Trump. It’s the first time in the somewhat checkered history of Washington’s presidential primary that’s been the case.

That means she can’t have a secret ballot if she’s on record as voting Republican in the March 10 GOP presidential primary, Wyman said. She isn’t going to say she’s a Democrat and vote in the other party’s primary, which has 13 names.

The party box a Washington voter checks becomes public record for 60 days after the presidential primary.

Wyman’s decision highlights what may be the most controversial elements of this and the two previous state presidential primaries: the lack of an “unaffiliated” option for voters, and a requirement to indicate party membership or preference for the vote to count.

The national Republican and Democratic parties require their presidential nominees be selected by their members.

“Democrats want Democrats picking their standard bearer and Republicans want Republicans picking their standard bearer,” Wyman said. “It’s a constitutionally protected right.”

In some states, voters register by party and are given the ballot for that registration when they arrive at the polls. In other states, a voter can switch his or her party affiliation as late as Election Day and get that party’s ballot at the polling place.

Washington voters don’t register by party, and the state primary system doesn’t select the top candidates of the two major parties. Instead, it allows the two candidates with the most votes to advance to the general election, regardless of party preference.

That means when the presidential primary happens every four years – or at least in the presidential election years since 1992 when it wasn’t canceled to save money, as in 2004 and 2012 – some Washington voters balk at a requirement that they signal a party affiliation for their vote to be counted.

“We just have fiercely independent voters in Washington state,” Wyman said.

In 2000, for example, some 500,000 voters chose an unaffiliated ballot, even though neither party was using those results. That was more than the votes cast in the Democratic or Republican primaries.

Podlodowski said the state Democratic Party knows many Washington voters like to keep their party affiliation private, and worked with the Legislature when it changed the presidential primary law last year to make sure it didn’t require the public release of their names. But the law requires that information be made available to the parties if they request it, and they can keep records of those declarations.

Wyman said that’s available for 60 days after the primary, and during that time what’s available to the parties is a public record available to everybody.

When the Legislature was changing the law last year, Wyman and other Republicans pushed for an unaffiliated option for voters who didn’t want to identify with one party or the other. If the state is paying for the election, all state voters should have a right to cast a ballot, the sponsors of GOP amendments in the House and Senate said.

Those amendments were voted down by Democrats, who said they had been told national party rules would keep their party from using the primary results if there was an unaffiliated option. Requiring party declarations was a trade-off for moving the primary from May to March when it would have more impact and taking delegate selection away from the caucus system, they argued.

By sending in a ballot without either party’s box checked, Wyman said she believes her county elections office will send her a form to correct it; she’ll ignore the form. Eventually, the ballot will go to the county Canvassing Board, which should reject it. She won’t get credit for voting.

So it’s not a strategy for anyone looking to preserve a perfect voting record and their party independence, she added.

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