The state Legislature should remember the outcry over Washington’s messy, confusing process of picking presidential candidates. Clean up the system with a simple, earlier presidential primary.
LAST year, Washington’s process for picking Democratic presidential candidates was shown, again, to be a frustrating, confusing mess.
While refusing to use the state’s presidential primary, Democrats held party caucuses March 26, which disenfranchised thousands due to poor execution. Those participants picked Bernie Sanders.
Republicans had to wait until May 24 for a statewide presidential primary — so late that Donald Trump was already cruising toward the nomination, yet Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Ben Carson remained on the ballot. The GOP had supported an effort to move the primary earlier so it could have a more influential result, but Democrats refused.
Interestingly, Democrats also got to vote in the May primary. Those voters picked Hillary Clinton — a meaningless result because their caucuses had already awarded delegates to Sanders. Good grief.
The state Legislature should be moved by the debacle and clean up the process. Secretary of State Kim Wyman has bipartisan support for a smart proposal which moves up the statewide presidential primary from the fourth Tuesday in May, as it is now set in law, to the second Tuesday in March.
That date would come just a week after Super Tuesday. It would assure that Washington citizens cast votes for presidential nominees when it still matters. That would assure candidates campaign in Washington — learning, for example, about our unique reliance on trade and our decades-long fight with the feds to finally clean up Hanford — and not just treat the Puget Sound as an ATM.
An earlier Washington state primary could also be timed with other Western states, for a so-called Pac-12 primary. Wyman is talking with other states about an earlier, multistate primary, but Washington’s Legislature needs to help her out and actually move up the date.
Democrats have been the problem here, preferring clubby caucuses on a Saturday in March, which is difficult for many shift workers and voters with families.
While the Legislature is at it, they would do voters a favor and allow independent voters a chance to make their preference known in the presidential primary. Currently voters must choose ballots by party affiliation. Adding an independent ballot would reflect the party-splitting nature of many Washington voters. This last presidential election clearly showed that party matters less when flawed candidates are the only choices.
Moving up the primary will not be a hedge against bad outcomes in the 2020 presidential election. But it’s a start.