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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Primer on the primary: Presidential primary ballots went out this week. Here’s how they’re unique in Washington state

Cars line up at the North Spokane Library on Hawthorne Road to drop off ballots for the November 2022 election.  (Christopher Anderson/For The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Voting began this week in Washington’s presidential primary.

The state has mailed combined Republican and Democratic primary ballots to 4.8 million registered voters in all of Washington’s 39 counties.

Voters have until March 12 to cast their ballots and weigh in on their chosen party’s nominee for president. Voters must declare a party and select only one candidate, or else their votes won’t be counted.

Voters may return their ballots to county drop boxes or by mail for free using the prepaid envelopes included with each ballot. Ballots must be mailed and postmarked by March 12 or placed in a county drop box or voting center by 8 p.m. that day.

Choosing a party

The presidential primary is overseen by the state and county election offices, but how the results are used to select presidential candidates is up to the country’s two major political parties. Voters are required to declare a party on the outside of their ballot and select one candidate from the corresponding party for their vote to count.

This is different from other elections in Washington in which voters are not required to declare a party.

The party a voter selects will not bind them to vote for that party in future elections. But the party a voter selects will be held in public record and accessible to anyone for 60 days after the primary election results are certified, said Derrick Nunnally, the spokesperson for the Washington Secretary of State’s office.

“Folks have called us expressing some confusion over why they have to declare a political party,” Nunnally told The Spokesman-Review. “The short answer is it’s state law.”

What your vote does

The presidential primary allows Washingtonians to help their selected party choose a candidate at the Democratic and Republican national conventions later this year.

Each party’s respective nominee for president and vice president will appear on the Nov. 7 general election ballot, along with state and local candidates selected in the state primary on Aug. 6.

For the presidential primary based on rules written by each party , Washington has 92 Democratic delegates and 43 GOP delegates.

Democratic candidates who earn at least 15% of the vote will win a proportional share of the 92 delegates.

For Republican candidates, a minimum of 20% of the vote will be required to potentially win any of the delegates. But there’s a catch: If one Republican candidate wins more than 50% of their party’s votes, they claim all 43 GOP delegates.

Who’s on the ballot?

A few of the candidates you’ll see on the presidential primary ballot have already dropped out of the presidential race.

This is because Washington’s deadline to finalize the primary ballot happened in January. The deadline allows time for state and county offices time to prepare for the election and make sure all the state’s registered voters (some of whom are overseas) get their ballots.

The whole process of designing and printing ballots is entirely funded by taxpayer dollars from the pockets of Washingtonians. In Spokane County, a full countywide election typically costs about $700,000 to pull off, according to county auditor Vicky Dalton.

This year’s Republican primary ballot will list former president Donald Trump, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.

As of this week, all of those Republican candidates except Trump and Haley had dropped out of the race.

Haley, who served as governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, announced her campaign for presidency last year.

This year’s Democratic primary ballot will list President Joe Biden, Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson. Williamson dropped out of the race on Feb. 7.

Since 2019, Phillips has served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Minnesota’s 3rd congressional district.

For an up-to-date list of which candidates have formally withdrawn from the primary race, visit the state’s online voter guide.

Voters can still vote for candidates who have dropped out of the race, although those votes won’t determine who wins the state’s delegates.

In Spokane County, Dalton said some people reported they are uncomfortable with their declared party being visible on the outside of their ballot envelope, because they’re afraid their ballot could be thrown away based on party.

Dalton said every ballot will be safely handled by official elections staff, so voters need not worry.

For more information about this year’s presidential primary, visit the Office of Secretary of State website at