Washington state’s Presidential Primary will mean something as part of the nomination process for the Republican and — for the first time — Democratic Party.
On Sunday in Pasco, state Democrats voted to use the primary election to allocate the state’s presidential delegates. The Republicans, who used the primary in 2016, had already committed to using the results in 2020.
This is progress. In the past Democrats used only the caucuses, the daylong meetings in which issues are hashed out, to select delegates to the national convention. These are sparsely attended compared to election participation.
Another positive is that the Legislature moved the date of the primary from late May to early March. It all means that the $10 million or so the state spends on holding the Presidential Primary won’t be a total waste of money.
But Washington’s Presidential Primary still effectively leaves out voters who don’t consider themselves Republicans or Democrats and refuse to publicly declare themselves party members in order to receive a ballot that counts. The law allows independent voters to cast ballots in what is essentially a non-counting straw poll.
Of course, we — like many independent voters — would prefer all votes count toward picking the parties’ nominees. But since the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the political parties have a First Amendment right of free association, which means they can dictate who participates in their nomination process, that’s not going to happen.
The state’s primary elections for other offices are open to all because Washington adopted a top-two system. It takes the political parties out of the nomination process and calls for two candidates with the most votes, regardless of their political affiliation, to move on to the November General Election.
It has proved to be a good system, particularly for the state’s moderate voters as they can crisscross the ballot to vote for Republicans and Democrats. It also sets up more competitive races in districts that are heavily Republican or Democratic as candidates from the same party face off in November.
But the state can’t impose its will on the Presidential Primary the parties use — at least not right now. Moving the Presidential Primary to March, early in the process, will make the votes in Washington state relevant. And this will give voters more reason to declare themselves Republicans or Democrats so they can cast a ballot for their top choice to serve in the White House.
However, they should keep in mind that their party declaration will become public information — and their mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service will reflect that. They will be on political lists.
But if Washington voters want to have a say in either the Republican or Democratic nomination process, at least they have a viable option for 2020.