Confused about Washington’s state’s May 24 presidential primary? Here’s what you need to know to navigate the ballot.

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Editor’s note: This primary election guide, first published April 30, has been updated to reflect the suspensions of Ted Cruz’s and John Kasich’s campaigns — and answer some additional reader questions we received.


If you’re one of Washington’s 4 million registered voters, you should recently have received a ballot for the May 24 presidential primary.

With both the Democratic and Republican presidential races reportedly all but settled, you could be forgiven for wondering: “What’s the point?”

If you’re a Democrat, you can vote for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, even if you already participated in the caucuses in March. You can even switch candidates if you like.

The only catch is your vote will be disregarded by the state Democratic Party.

That’s not the case if you vote on the Republican side of the ballot, where you can check a box for Donald Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, or even Ben Carson. The state GOP will award delegates based on that vote.

True, everyone but Trump has dropped out. But Trump has not yet clinched the nomination, so the primary is still a protest outlet if you’re a #NeverTrump type.

As for “independents” — sure, you can vote, too, but only if you sign a statement saying you’re a Republican or a Democrat.

Confused? Here are some questions and answers about the primary. The deadline to postmark ballots is May 24.

Q: Now that Cruz and Kasich have dropped out, isn’t this primary meaningless?

A: Not entirely. It’s true that most of the drama was sucked out of the election last week as Cruz and Kasich ended their campaigns, leaving Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee. That happened just as ballots were being mailed to voters here. Nevertheless, Washington’s 44 GOP delegates will not be awarded to any candidate until the primary results are in. Cruz and Kasich remain on the ballot and could theoretically pick up some of Washington’s delegates. Trump has yet to secure the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination — a point he made during campaign rallies here May 7, asking supporters to deliver him a primary win.

Q: What’s with these partisan loyalty statements I have to sign?

A: Unlike many states, Washington has no official party registration. As a result, both the Democratic and Republican parties have long been leery of outsiders interfering with their presidential-nominating processes. That’s why the primary law includes a requirement that voters declare their party affiliation to vote — though it’s basically an unenforceable honor system.

Q: But I’m an independent. What do I do?

A: Sorry. There is no ballot for “independents.” You have attest that you consider yourself a Democrat or Republican to have your vote count in this primary.

Q: If I sign a Democratic or Republican loyalty statement for the primary, does that mean I have to vote for that party in the November election?

A: No. You’ll get a regular ballot in November and are free to vote however you want — for a Republican, Democrat or any of the third party candidates who make the ballot.

Q: Can I vote for Trump and Clinton both? How about Sanders and Kasich?

A: No. You have to pick one party’s contest. If you vote in both your ballot will be invalidated.

Q: I thought Washington was a caucus state. Why are we having a primary?

A: Thank televangelist Pat Robertson. Both political parties here traditionally relied on caucuses to determine presidential favorites. But in 1988, Robertson won the state’s Republican caucuses over then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in an embarrassment to the GOP establishment. The next year an initiative to the Legislature created the presidential primary, which was first used in the 1992 election.

Q: I don’t remember a presidential primary in 2012. Was I asleep?

A: Maybe, but the Legislature has canceled funding for the presidential primary in some years due to budget concerns. That happened in 2004 and 2012. Both parties instead relied on caucuses.

Q: How will Democrats and Republicans treat the May 24 primary results?

A: Republicans will award all of the state’s 44 presidential delegates based on the primary. Thirty will be awarded proportionally based on results in each of the state’s 10 congressional districts (three per district). The remainder will be allocated based on statewide results.

The state Democratic Party will ignore the primary when it comes to awarding delegates. That continues a tradition of preferring the old-timeysystem of picking delegates at caucuses. The Democratic precinct caucuses on March 26 were dominated by Sanders, who took 73 percent of the vote.

Q: Why do Democrats dislike the primary?

A: Jaxon Ravens, chair of the state Democratic Party, said the party has long used caucuses. Despite some complaints, Ravens said Democrats “enjoy the opportunity at least once every four years to sit down and talk to their neighbors.”

Since state party leaders decided to use only caucus results, Ravens said they’re doing nothing to encourage participation in the primary. He does not plan to vote himself.

Q: So is there any point to voting in the Democratic primary?

A: Not in terms of delegate allocation. However, Clinton supporters could be eager to demonstrate she has much larger support here than the caucuses would indicate. Critics of the caucuses may also highlight the difference between caucus and primary results to embarrass state party leaders and force a change in the system in 2020. On the other hand, Sanders backers should be motivated to show his caucus win was no fluke and that Washington truly feels the Bern.

Q: Didn’t Republicans used to ignore the primary too?

A: Since the primary started, the state Republican Party has typically split its presidential delegates, awarding some based on the primary and the rest via caucuses. That changed this year as the GOP decided to go 100 percent to the primary. State Republican chairwoman Susan Hutchison said it’s time both parties got with the times.

“The caucus system is old and outdated,” she said. “There are just too many people who can’t participate.”

Q: How much does the primary cost?

A: About $11.5 million. Democrats have argued that’s a waste of state money since their party won’t use the results. (Caucuses are paid for by the political parties, not the taxpayers.) Republicans support the expense and say it’s worth it to get more voters’ voices involved in the presidential race.

Q: What’s the turnout like in a primary versus a caucus?

A: In 2008, nearly 700,000 people voted in the Democratic presidential primary. By contrast, 246,000 participated in the Democratic caucuses that year, which was an record.

Q: Why is our primary so late in the year?

A: The default date of the presidential primary is set in state law as the fourth Tuesday in May. In some past years, lawmakers have agreed to move it earlier. But Democrats refused to go along with a request by Secretary of State Kim Wyman (a Republican) to move the 2016 primary to March.

Q: Why is Ben Carson on the ballot? What about Cruz and Kasich?

A: Carson dropped out of the presidential race in March. There was time to remove him before ballots needed to be printed. But Carson did not respond to requests to sign a form legally needed to remove him.

“For about two weeks my staff and I were on the phone,” said Wyman, adding that she tried “every contact I had politically.” Carson simply didn’t respond. By contrast, Marco Rubio did agree to have his name removed from the ballot.

Cruz and Kasich also remain on the ballot, having dropped out much later — after ballots were printed and on their way to voters.

Q: Since the Democratic votes won’t count, can’t I as a Democrat mess with the Republicans by voting in their primary for the candidate I think will do worst?

A: As discussed above, the GOP race is basically over. But, yes, if you are dishonest and sign the statement saying you are a Republican, you can vote in their primary. It’s not like you’ll be arrested. But how will you sleep? Also, the information about which ballot you selected can be publicly disclosed.

Q: Wait, so my neighbors can find out if I voted Republican or Democratic?

A: Yes. While the candidate you voted for is confidential, your choice of a particular party’s ballot is considered public information. Both parties will receive the data, so you can expect to wind up on partisan mailing lists. Journalists and others can also get that information.