Don’t waste our time and money. Legislators must make the presidential primary count

Washington residents celebrate primary results showing a wide-margin victory for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on May 24, 2016, in Lynnwood, Wash.
Washington residents celebrate primary results showing a wide-margin victory for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on May 24, 2016, in Lynnwood, Wash. Associated Press

Just think. At this time next year Washington voters could be prepping to be key players in the presidential primary election.

But that’s only if our state lawmakers get their act together this legislative session.

If they don’t, we’ll be relegated once again to an almost meaningless, secondary role voting for presidential candidates in late May 2020.

Senate Bill 5273 would move the state’s presidential primary election from the fourth Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March, putting Washington in the hottest part of the campaign season.

Such a move likely would entice presidential hopefuls to visit our state, and it would put our interests on their radar.

They would have to pay more attention to issues like Hanford cleanup, Snake River dams and trade in the Pacific Rim.

California lawmakers last year decided to move their presidential primary from June to March 3 next year, and now there’s talk of creating a West Coast block. Washington should be a part of it.

It would be a shame if candidates visited other nearby states next March and then skipped ours because we failed to move our election date.

Remember what happened last time?

By the time our presidential primary rolled around, Donald Trump was the only Republican left in the GOP race.

On the Democrats’ side, Hillary Clinton won the presidential primary with 53 percent of the statewide vote, but state Democrats had held caucuses earlier and determined Bernie Sanders their choice. They allocated all their delegates for him, ignoring the Clinton victory at the polls.

It was a disheartening exercise and an expensive one too.

The 2016 presidential primary cost Washington taxpayers about $12 million. If we are going to spend so much money, we should make sure the election counts for more than a limp connection to the political process.

The parties are not legally bound to consider the voters’ top choices in the presidential primary, and while in the past the Republicans have pledged to follow the will of the voters, the Democrats never have.

Democrats still might ignore the people’s pick in the future (we wish they wouldn’t), but even if they do, it would still be better for Washington voters to have their say early on.

Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman has been pushing this for years, and her effort finally is making progress. The legislation already has been approved by the Senate and could make it to the House floor any time.

While that is encouraging, a continued sticking point is how independent voters will fare.

Wyman’s proposal allowed people to participate in the presidential primary without having to declare themselves a Democrat or Republican when they vote.

But that language unfortunately was taken out of the original bill. We think that’s a mistake.

Many Washington citizens won’t vote if they have to claim an allegiance to a political party before they cast a ballot.

We hope lawmakers find a way to protect the independent voter; otherwise the primary will end up being used by political parties to cull names, which will keep many people from participating.

The point of this legislation is to give Washington more weight during the presidential primary campaign season, so that’s what lawmakers must keep in mind.

This is the last chance to make the change before 2020. If lawmakers don’t act now, our votes for presidential candidates will continue to be peripheral instead of paramount.