It’s disappointing that legislative Democrats, who talk so much about voter access, would pass legislation shutting out voters who refuse to declare they’re a Democrat or Republican.
The Legislature’s majority party has just passed a bill that would disenfranchise independent-minded voters in our state. I hope the Democratic-controlled Legislature doesn’t double down by also approving legislation that could enable a return to illegal campaigning.
Senate Bill 5273, which has gone to the governor, would move Washington’s presidential primary from late May to March. For me and other legislators who voted “no,” the move to March isn’t the problem. In fact, we agree it’s overdue. Both major parties’ nominations usually are locked up before Washington’s late-May presidential primary. A March primary gives our state’s voters a greater voice.
As Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat recently wrote, the big problem with SB 5273 is that voters would have to affiliate with the Democratic or Republican party in order for their presidential primary votes to count. Washington voters value their independence, as shown by the overwhelming passage of 2004’s I-872, which created our Top 2 primary. It’s disappointing and ironic that legislative Democrats, who talk so much about voter access, would pass legislation shutting out voters who refuse to declare they’re a Democrat or Republican. And what about people in certain positions (judges, for instance) who shouldn’t take a partisan ballot but still want to vote in this primary?
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Names and addresses of presidential primary voters who affiliate with a party will be turned over to that party after the election. So much for privacy.
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The other problem proposal is Senate Bill 5270, which would move Washington’s state primary election from the first Tuesday in August to the third Tuesday in May. It’s poised for a full Senate vote any day.
Proponents argue that Washington’s August primary date discourages voter participation, on the grounds that many people are on vacation at that time, schools are out for summer and folks just aren’t thinking about voting. Yet in years when Washington’s primary turnout was disappointingly low, the cause was a lack of hot races on the ballot, not the primary date. Turnout certainly wasn’t a problem last August, as nearly 41 percent of registered voters cast primary ballots, decidedly better than the May primaries in Oregon (33.9 percent) and Idaho (32.6 percent).
Where SB 5270 really runs into problems is in moving Washington’s mid-May candidate-filing period — essentially the start of the campaign season — to late February. Doing so would extend the length of our state’s campaign season, something only political consultants would want. It also would cause a legislative session and the start of a legislator’s campaign to overlap. This spells big trouble.
Also, the bill would allow legislators to solicit and accept money if the Legislature went into a special session — not from lobbyists, lobbyists’ employers or PACs, but individuals. That means a lawmaker could vote to pass legislation sought by a public-employee union in the morning, then accept a contribution from a union member later that day. Such a scenario invites corruption.
If SB 5270 becomes law, campaigning by legislators could occur during a session. This potentially could allow state resources to be used — intentionally or not — for political campaigns.
Few of today’s legislators were serving in Olympia in the early 1990s when illegal campaign work involving staff and state resources was rampant among the political caucuses in the Legislature. I was elected to the Legislature in 1992, when Washington voters created a law to crack down on this unethical activity.
The ethics rules that resulted from those dark days were a huge leap forward in enforcing a strict line between legislative work and campaigns. I fear this bill would destroy that needed firewall and undo more than 25 years of campaign-finance reform.