Washington voters deserve to have their voices heard loud and clear during the 2020 presidential election cycle. That means moving the date of Washington state's presidential primary election to earlier in the year — and for the state Democratic Party to start using the results.
Now that midterm elections are over, state officials should turn their attention to ensuring Washington voters’ voices count as much as possible in 2020.
That means moving the date of Washington state’s presidential primary to earlier in the year, when it has greater potential to influence which top candidates will compete for the nation’s highest office.
Once this is done, the state Democratic Party should also agree to use the earlier primary election results in its presidential nominating process, instead of continuing to rely on inconvenient caucus meetings that too few voters attend.
Right now, Washington’s default practice of holding its presidential primary on the fourth Tuesday of May all but ensures that the results arrive too late to substantially influence the presidential nominating process. In 2016, for instance, Donald Trump was the only Republican candidate left in the race by the time Washington state held its May 24 primary election. By then, other Republican contenders including Ted Cruz and John Kasich already had dropped out.
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Moving the presidential primary to March — closer to the middle of the primary election schedule — would help ensure that Washington’s results hold more sway on the national contest. It would also push candidates to come to Washington state and hold more public events here, giving local voters greater insight into those vying to become their next leader.
The Legislature, which reconvenes in January, should waste no time in moving the default presidential primary date from late May to the second Tuesday in March. This change must be made in 2019 to meet the political parties’ deadlines for planning for 2020, according to Kim Wyman, Washington’s Secretary of State, a supporter of the early primary.
Legislators also should give Wyman the ability to shift the presidential primary date slightly if it would allow Washington’s primary to line up with other states’. This flexibility would allow for a regional primary that could generate even more national interest — a West Coast Super Tuesday of sorts.
An earlier and more relevant primary should make it easier for the state Democratic Party to dump its outdated caucus system, which it has used in the past to allocate delegates to presidential candidates.
These caucus meetings, which can stretch over many hours, can end up excluding voters who can’t show up in person to help choose their party’s candidate. People who work weekends or have family commitments may not be able to attend caucus meetings, which don’t offer the convenience of having a ballot mailed to your house.
Washington voters have already shown they are more likely to participate in a primary election than a caucus meeting. In 2016, more than 800,000 voters cast ballots in the May 24 Democratic primary, compared to about 230,000 who attended the Democratic precinct caucus meetings in March. That was despite the Democratic primary results not counting toward the party’s nomination process. The state Republican Party, by contrast, used the 2016 primary results to allocate delegates to presidential candidates.
Washington voters deserve to have their voices heard loud and clear during the 2020 presidential election cycle.
The best way to do that is to have a much earlier presidential primary — and for both parties to ensure that the results actually matter.