Olympia Dispatch

Washington Could Move Up Its Presidential Primary Date

Will this state's vote finally matter in 2020?

By Hayat Norimine January 31, 2019

Image: King County

Disenfranchised voters have often claimed their ballots mean nothing. And in presidential elections in Washington, they're mostly right. 

For one thing, Washington's presidential primary is too late. By state law, Washington's primary must be held on the fourth Tuesday of May; at that point party candidates have already been chosen, based off state votes that were cast months earlier.

That could change with a new bill that passed in the state senate with a 29-18 vote on Wednesday, which proposes moving up Washington's presidential primary to a date in March and coordinating with other states to create a so-called Super Tuesday on the West Coast. 

In effect, presidential candidates who have long been able to ignore Washington voters for the primary would actually have incentive to visit and campaign here. 

"I think most of us want to be able to see Washington be a meaningful participant in this," said state senator Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat, who sponsored the bill.  

Republican secretary of state Kim Wyman has been pushing this change for years, and called the caucus system "the greatest act of voter suppression." (Coincidentally, the first time Democrats supported this proposal is also the year Democratic governor Jay Inslee is considering a run.)

Washington's officials in particular have complicated the system for choosing presidential candidates to the point of total irrelevance. It's so meaningless that in the past, it's been on the chopping block when the state is short of money. (In 2016 the primary cost the state $11.5 million, AP reported.)

"Washington state is really critical. We set the standard for the rest of the country in a lot of ways," said state senator Hans Zeiger, a Puyallup Republican. "Our presidential candidates ought to be paying attention to that."

If you're a Republican in the state, a vote cast in the primary—which determines delegates sent to the convention, who then vote on the candidates—will be too late to count on a national level. In 2016 Donald Trump already won the party's primary by the time this state's votes were cast.

Democratic votes cast at the presidential primary mean literally nothing. The party instead picks delegates based off its caucus held much earlier—one that requires voters to show up in person, potentially sit through hours of the meeting, then vote. It's often been prohibitive, and historically draws just a fraction of the number of voters in the primary (for which voters just cast their ballots).

In this state, only voters who say they consider themselves a member of the party they're supporting can vote. Zeiger's effort to push through an amendment that allows for unaffiliated or third-party voters failed. 

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