Last year, Washington’s presidential primary election had no political punch.
Next time, we need our votes to have some force behind them.
The key for this is moving up the date of our presidential primary so that Washington citizens can weigh in early — instead of so late in the campaign that our votes hardly matter.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman is continuing her mission to move the date of the state primary from the fourth Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March.
She tried to make the change before last year’s presidential primary, but state Democratic leaders balked at the idea.
Right now, our state is a neglected destination on the presidential campaign trail. But Wyman’s plan might entice candidates to visit and stump in Washington.
Such attention would help Washington citizens feel more connected to the political process, and make our votes more significant.
Wyman also wants to allow voters the option of declaring themselves “unaffiliated,” which would be a welcome choice for those who consider themselves Independents.
Currently, voters must declare themselves to be a Democrat or a Republican when they vote in the presidential primary election — even if they aren’t.
Under the proposal, the “unaffiliated” votes would be tallied separately, and it would be up to the political parties to decide if they would consider those votes when they allocate their delegates to the national convention.
Even so, more Washington voters would participate if they didn’t have to declare allegiance to a political party before they cast a ballot — especially since that declaration is considered public record.
On the Secretary of State website, Wyman said that many voters don’t want to be affiliated with any party, or they want to keep their party preference private. She believes restoring the “unaffiliated” option would boost voter turnout.
We think so too.
Senate Bill 5333 and its companion bill in the House, HB 1469, which is co-sponsored by Larry Haler, R-Richland, is still alive in the Legislature. It encompasses the date change for the presidential primary election and the “unaffiliated” voter option.
Wyman said the lateness of Washington’s 2016 presidential primary “made it clear” that “we need to move it earlier in the process so our state can be more relevant in helping choose nominees.”
By the time our May 2016 primary election rolled around, the presidential nominees for the Democrat and Republican races pretty much had been decided.
On the Republican side, everyone but Donald Trump had dropped out. Ted Cruz and John Kasich left the race just a few days before our state’s election, and Mark Rubio withdrew in mid-March. Ben Carson quit before then.
The Republicans graciously decided to use the results of the primary election for its delegate allocation, but with everyone out except Trump, it didn’t matter.
Democrats held their caucuses in March, and Bernie Sanders was determined to be the clear choice.
However, in the presidential primary, Hillary Clinton won with 53 percent of the statewide vote.
State Democrats ignored those results and allocated all their delegates for Sanders. The parties are not legally bound to consider the voters’ top choices in the presidential primary, and Democrats never have.
Democrats still might ignore the people’s pick in the future (we wish they wouldn’t), but it would still be better for Washington voters to have their say in March rather than May.
Our state’s presidential primary election is considered more of a beauty contest than a relevant factor in the campaign.
That needs to change. Lawmakers should support Wyman’s proposal and give Washington votes some weight.