Registered voters should receive their presidential primary ballots in the mail beginning the week of Feb. 17 for the March 10 vote. This election is different than previous primaries in several ways.
Probably the biggest change is that the Democratic Party is using the primary to determine allocation of its delegates to the national convention. In the past, the Democrats have used either the caucuses or a combination of the two.
This year, the primary comes earlier on the national election calendar, in an attempt to give Washington voters more influence on the eventual nominees. Prior contests were later in the year (the 2016 primary date was May 24) and, often, the candidates had been determined by then.
And there is an “uncommitted” option, which only the Democrats asked for. For information on that, see below.
Caucuses still will happen this year. Parties will pick delegates for the next stages of the county or legislative district party gatherings and discuss their party’s platform. The local Republican caucuses are Feb. 29. The county Democrats hold their caucuses May 3. (More information is below.)
We asked Grays Harbor County Auditor Joe MacLean some questions about the primary election. What follows are his answers, edited only for grammar or style.
Question: Will party choice be recorded and be public record?
MacLean: Yes, it will be in our system for 60 days and remain public record during that time.
Q: Which Democrats are on the ballot? Which Republicans?
Democrats: Michael Bennet, Joseph R. Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang, Uncommitted Delegates.
Republicans: Donald J. Trump.
Q: Are the counties or the state involved in the caucuses?
Q: Is there a way to take part in the primary without declaring for a party?
M: Not in the Presidential Preference Primary. The Presidential Preference Primary is the only election in Washington state that requires you to declare a party. This information is retained in our database for 60 days and then will be removed from each voter record.
Q: Why do political parties require voters to declare?
M: The best explanation that I have ever heard was, “Would you allow the Elks Lodge to elect the leader (i.e. chair, president, board) of the Eagles?”
Republicans and Democrats are private organizations and have their own rules to follow just like any other organization.
Q: If the parties are controlling the primary, are the votes still secure?
M: Yes. The votes are secure. The parties control the primary but they don’t run the primary election. The Presidential Preference Primary is run by the Auditor’s Office and follows all of the security measures that any election in Washington state has to follow. Additionally, over the past year, physical and digital security has been upgraded in Grays Harbor and in Washington state.
Q: What information will the Auditor’s Office give the parties? (Just the vote tallies? vs. Who made what votes?)
M: Records request that are submitted will contain the required information listed in state law.
For the Presidential Preference Primary this will include:
Name, voter registration number, precinct, address, date of birth, voting history (in which elections you returned a ballot). Last but not least, for 60 days, and this election only, the party preference that you marked on the return envelope.
Q: Who is paying for this primary?
M: The Presidential Preference Primary is funded by the Washington state Legislature. As you may recall there was no Presidential Preference Primary in 2012 because it was not funded in the 2011 budget.
Q: Since people get a ballot for each party, what would happen if people voted in both parties’ primaries?
M: Instructions on the ballot state that you may only vote for one candidate on either ballot. If a voter selects more than one candidate on either or both ballots, it will invalidate the whole ballot. This election’s reconciliation form will contain an additional category for ballots not counted when a voter votes for both parties.
This ballot will look like any other ballot that you receive, but will have a few additional features.
1) Each ballot is color coded for each party: Blue for Democratic Party. Red for Republican Party.
2) Additional instructions for where to find information about campaign financing.
Q: Is Washington safe from the problems that happened in Iowa?
M: Yes. Iowa parties used a web based app that obviously was not fully tested. We in Grays Harbor and Washington state are using paper ballots and an election system that is tried and true.
Q: How are delegates assigned?
M: The major political parties have adopted rules to decide how to use the presidential primary results to allocate delegates to the national nomination conventions. Both parties will be using the results of the presidential primary for delegate allocation. For more information about how your party intends to allocate delegates, please contact that political party. (Democrats: www.wa-democrats.org. Republicans: wsrp.org.)
Q: Are there “third party” primaries?
M: Minor party and independent candidates do not participate in the presidential primary and must comply with the convention process for access to the November General Election ballot.
Q: What does a vote for “uncommitted” mean to Washington or the Democratic party (since the GOP doesn’t have the option)?
M: Your ballot will have an option to vote for “Uncommitted Delegates.” The uncommitted option was requested by the Democratic Party. It was not requested by the Republican Party.
You may vote for one candidate or the uncommitted option, but not both.
A vote for one candidate listed on the ballot directs party delegates to support that candidate at their national convention.
A vote for “uncommitted” allows uncommitted delegates who represent Washington to decide during their national convention.
Q: Why are the parties caucusing if the only vote that counts in the race for president are the primary votes?
M: You will need to contact each party.
County Democrats’ spokesperson: The county Democratic caucuses are to choose delegates and review the platform beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 3, at Aberdeen High School. Both the 19th and 24th legislative districts will hold caucuses there. For more information go to ghdemocrats.org. The county convention follows at 1 p.m. May 3. The state convention begins June 12. The Democratic National Convention begins July 13.
County Republicans’ spokesperson: The Republican caucuses are to determine who will be delegates and to review the platform. The county Republican Party caucuses are 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 29., at the following locations: McCleary Old Hotel, Elma Senior Center, Humptulips Fire Station, Aberdeen American Legion Hall and Hoquiam Grand Central Events Center. For more information go to ghgop.org. The GOP county convention is March 14. The state convention is May 16. The national convention begins Aug. 24.