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Questions, answers about Tuesday’s presidential primary ballot

From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center Feb. 25, in Charleston, S.C. (Patrick Semansky / AP)
From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center Feb. 25, in Charleston, S.C. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

Voters all over Washington have some choices to make in the next three days.

Most of you still have your presidential primary ballot somewhere in the home. Check the kitchen counter, that hallway table or wherever mail tends to stack up. It’s a slightly oversized envelope that arrived about two weeks ago.

This is even one time when procrastinating on your ballot may work to your advantage, because not all the candidates on the ballot are still in the race.

The ballots are due by 8 p.m. Tuesday, either deposited in a drop box or put in the mail so that the envelope has a postmark no later than that time.

It’s not the first presidential primary in Washington, but it is the first in which both political parties will use the results to determine how many delegates a candidate gets toward the nomination for president.

The presidential primary rules have changed over the years, so we’ll try to answer some of the common questions.

Why are we voting so late in the primary season?

Actually, we’re voting earlier than in some past presidential primaries, which were held in late May. The Legislature moved the date up to the second Tuesday in March last year, hoping there still would be many candidates in the race, that they would campaign in the state and that Washington voters would have a chance to winnow the field.

How’s that working out?

Until last Tuesday, it looked like a good plan. Then former Vice President Joe Biden, who hadn’t finished better than third in the first three contests, made what some pundits described as a surprise comeback and won 10 of the 14 contests on Super Tuesday. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropped out just before Super Tuesday. Billionaire Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren dropped out afterward.

So of all these Democratic names on my ballot, which ones are still in the race?

Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii are still running, although Gabbard hasn’t done well in most previous contests and isn’t campaigning very much.

I voted for one of the Democrats who dropped out. Can I change my vote?

Not if you mailed it in or put it in a drop box. If you marked it but didn’t send it in, follow the instructions for changing your ballot.

Why can’t I can’t get my ballot back?

After it was picked up at the drop box or delivered by the Postal Service, the envelope was processed, and the ballot with the inner envelope was separated from the outer envelope. There’s no way of telling which ballot is yours.

If I voted for someone who dropped out, will my vote still count?

It will still be counted, and be part of the vote totals. If that person reaches the minimum threshold of 15% of the total state vote, or 15% in a congressional district, they will qualify for delegates to the national convention.

Why are there so many Democratic candidates and only one Republican?

The parties supplied the list of names. President Donald Trump is the only Republican candidate who met the qualifications set by the state GOP to be placed on the ballot.

I’m not registered. Can I still sign up and vote?

Yes, if you’re at least 18 years old, an American citizen and a Washington resident, but you’ll have to do it in person. You’ll have to go to your county elections office during normal business hours before 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Can I write in another candidate?

If it makes you feel good, but it won’t be counted for that person because no candidates have been filed as write-ins.

The ballot has Republican and Democratic names. Do I get to vote for one of each?

No. One candidate per voter.

What’s with the box asking me if I’m a Democrat or a Republican?

The parties have a legal right to have some way of knowing that their nominees are picked by people who are members of their party. Checking the box signifies that for the purposes of this election, you consider yourself a Democrat if you voted for a Democrat or a Republican if you voted for a Republican.

Does it mean I have to vote for that party’s candidates in the state primary in August, or in the general election?

No. Whom you vote for in those elections is secret, so no one will know. Whom you vote for in the presidential primary is secret, too, but the party box you check isn’t.

What if I want to vote but don’t want to say what party I support?

You can leave the box blank and send it in, but the elections office will contact you in case that was just an oversight, and ask you to fill out a form to correct the mistake. At that point you could change your mind and check a box for the party of the candidate you marked, or you can leave it blank. In that case, your ballot won’t be counted.

That stinks. Whom do I call to complain about this?

Not the elections office, because they don’t make the rules, they just follow them. And not the newspaper, because we don’t make the rules, we just report them. The law was passed by the Legislature, and it could be changed for the 2024 presidential primary, so your best place to complain would be your state senator and your two state representatives. You can find contact information for them at

When will we know who won the presidential primary?

For the Republican primary, we know it will be Trump. For the Democratic primary, there will be a count of the ballots on hand at the elections office as of 8 p.m. Tuesday, but more ballots will be coming in the mail for the next week, so those numbers could change because later voters will know most candidates dropped out. The party also will have to look at the congressional district results to see which candidates qualified for those delegates, and how many go to each qualifying candidate. That might be about two weeks.

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