Columnist Kate Riley argues why Washington voters should fill out their presidential primary ballot and pay attention to whether candidates serve the people or their parties.

Share story

Feeling a little left out of the fate of your nation, Washington voters? Mortified by the choice you’ll face in November? Blame the Washington state Democratic Party.

The presidential primary ballot tucked in your mail pile is due Tuesday. Yes, even though Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican Party nominee and Hillary Clinton is considered pretty much a shoo-in by anyone who can do math — Bernie Sanders himself, notwithstanding.

You could have had a chance to vote in a presidential primary as early as March 8.

Presidential primary

Tuesday is the deadline for returning your presidential primary ballot. You can either return by mail or drop-box location.

King County: kingcounty.gov/depts/elections/how-to-vote/ballots/returning-my-ballot/ballot-dropoff-locations

For Snohomish County: snohomishcountywa.gov/225/Ballot-Drop-Boxes

Think back: John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and that other guy were all still in the race. Maybe Washington and its West Coast sensibilities could have bolstered Kasich, Cruz or Rubio enough to force the GOP to a contested election to avoid Trump’s nomination. But we’ll never know now.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Thank the state Democratic Party, whose members vetoed Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s proposal to move the primary to March 8 to increase Washington’s say in the nomination process. The GOP was in, even deciding to allocate 100 percent of its convention delegates based on primary results. In the past, it allocated only half from the primary and half from caucuses.

The Democratic leaders’ recalcitrance sank the opportunity for the largest number of Washington voters to have a say in who would be on the November presidential ballot.

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party clings to using its poorly attended caucus system rather than the more (small-d) democratic system of a voted primary. That’s the party’s right, but only 230,000 people participated in its March 26 precinct caucuses. As of Friday, more than 1 million voters had returned their primary ballots. A turnout of more than 1.6 million — or more than 40 percent — is projected.

So, we have this presidential primary that won’t be very consequential. Vote your ballot anyway, if you identify with one party or the other. High participation will send a message to the parties and state officials — and maybe they will make a different decision next time.

Which brings me to befuddling criticisms of Wyman, a Republican, by her Democratic challenger. Tina Podlodowski came out swinging, criticizing Wyman for not canceling the presidential primary after Trump’s challengers all dropped out.

First of all, heaven help us if any single state official could, on his or her own, cancel an election. Someone running for that office ought to know the rules before popping off like that.

Second, Podlodowski’s criticisms are startling for someone pursuing a seat that historically has been held by tried-and-true populists not in lockstep with their parties.

Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro (who served five terms, starting in 1981) was a leader in bringing motor-voter registration to Washington state and the nation, which provided the convenience of voter registration to drivers getting their licenses. That populist move bucks the common knock that Republicans want to restrict ballot access.

Former Secretary of State Sam Reed, who served from 2001 to 2013, put the people before his party, repeatedly. The Republican was harangued by some party members over his shrewd umpiring of the razor-thin 2004 gubernatorial election — Democrat Chris Gregoire prevailed. And — this is a big one — he fought the state’s major political parties, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and back, for the voters’ right to keep the state’s top-two primary. That primary — enacted by voters themselves — allows them to select from all candidates for office, regardless of their party. The people are in control of who is on the ballot — and that’s why the parties sued.

If Podlodowski is a populist in that tradition, I wonder why she is leveling her criticism about the presidential primary at Wyman and not at her own party. Why is she not dinging the party for not permitting the presidential primary to run on March 8?

This is not an endorsement of Wyman for re-election, nor a repudiation of Podlodowski’s candidacy. An incumbent should face a high bar, and the challenger must make a strong case.

Rather, this is an encouragement for voters not to be discouraged. Please pay attention to the duties of the jobs candidates seek. Assess whether they will serve the people, all of the people, or their parties.

The Seattle Times editorial board soon will begin interviewing candidates, including these two, and making recommendations to voters starting in June.