Welcome to the fray, Washington voters.
Our state is now poised to be something of a player in the major parties’ presidential nominating process, after the state Democratic Central Committee voted Sunday to allocate its convention delegates based on the 2020 presidential primary, rather than by caucus. Coupled with a legislative decision to move the primary up by about 10 weeks to mid-March, candidates should be lured to Washington state as fertile ground for votes — not just a place to scoop up campaign checks at private fundraisers. They will make their pitches while having to address Washington’s issues as a sophisticated Pacific Rim state concerned about trade, the environment, immigration and high-tech.
This breakthrough comes 30 years after the Legislature enacted the citizen-submitted Initiative 99, creating a presidential primary. However, for years the parties were unenthusiastic about using the primary to select their convention delegates, still preferring the cumbersome and poorly attended caucus system of Saturday meetups.
The effect was that the presidential primary set by the 1989 law as the fourth Tuesday in May tended to be meaningless — especially as other states over the years moved their decision dates earlier. The Washington primary was actually canceled in 2004 and 2012, because of state budget crises.
The state Republican Party was the first to relent to using the primary, often allocating only a portion of its delegates based on its results. In 2016, the GOP agreed to use the primary to allocate all of its delegates.
The state Democratic Party never budged until Sunday. Caucuses will still be used to elect the people who will be delegates.
With the earlier date, Washington’s primary is expected to be just a week after the so-called Super Tuesday primary comprising 10 states. Secretary of State Kim Wyman is hoping that a regional primary with other states might develop, further enticing national candidates to the Northwest.
One disappointment for independent-minded voters: to vote, they will have to select a party — no longer will they have an option of voting without affiliating. But the primary’s purpose remains to select a standard-bearer for the parties, not for independent voters. Another consideration for the privacy-minded is that the party lists will be a matter of public record.
This change is good for the state, advancing its interests within the national debate and providing meaningful opportunity for citizens. Voters, get ready and make your vote count.