Washington’s March 10 presidential primary is drawing extra interest, thanks mainly to the contested race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Early votes are pouring in — more than 686,000 as of Friday, or 15.2% of registered voters.
But many voters have expressed frustration or confusion with aspects of the election, particularly the requirement to declare a party preference in order to vote. They’ve deluged Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office, as well as county elections officials and the political parties.
The Seattle Times covered many of the mechanics of the election and the ballots in a Feb. 23 Q&A. It’s worth a second read if you need to brush up on your primary knowledge.
But readers had additional questions, so here are some more answers.
Q: Who is responsible for these partisan declarations, and why are they on the outside of the ballot envelope? “Smells like sausage-making in the cloakrooms of Olympia,” one reader wrote.
A: We went over some of this before, but let’s take another crack, because this is the No. 1 beef out there.
This primary is unlike our other elections because it’s about choosing the presidential nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties. Both are private organizations that maintain control over their nomination processes. The state can’t force them to abide by the results of the primary, and for decades the parties ignored it all, and held caucuses to pick presidential favorites.
The partisan declarations are a kind of compromise to encourage the parties to use the results. The Democratic and Republican parties each submit their partisan declaration language to the Secretary of State’s Office.
By law, the ballots are designed by the secretary of state “in consultation with the major political parties.” The primary law was last revised in 2019, with the passage of Senate Bill 5273, co-sponsored by 15 Democratic state senators. That bill specified that information regarding a voter’s ballot choice is public.
Mark Neary, assistant secretary of state, said the positioning of the partisan declarations on the outside of the envelope is necessary because elections officials must sort the ballots by party before opening or counting them. (Though a second envelope to cover up the first is not theoretically prohibited.) Before 2010, state law required a flap on the ballot envelope that covered up the declaration information, he said.
Q: How much weight does our primary carry in the grand scheme of things?
A: Washington’s primary will divvy up 89 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer. The state gets an additional 19 automatic delegates, also known as “superdelegates,” for a total of 108. That ranks Washington 15th in the country.
We’ve got a lot fewer delegates than California’s 494 or New York’s 320. But we have way more than some attention-hogging early-voting states, like Iowa, which gets 49, or New Hampshire, with 33. A candidate needs 1,991 of the 3,979 pledged delegates to win on the first ballot at the DNC.
Q: What happened to Washington’s “top-two” primary?
A: It’s still around. The March 10 presidential primary is separate from the usual state primary, scheduled for Aug. 4. That’s when voters get to pick which candidates advance to the general election for all state, local and federal offices up for election this year. In that, there are no partisan restrictions and the top two vote-getting candidates, regardless of political party, move on to November.
Q: The March 10 primary ballot has a write-in slot for both parties. If I vote for Republican William Weld, will it be counted?
A: Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, is running a longshot campaign as an alternative to Trump for Republicans. He did not qualify for Washington’s ballot under rules set by the state Republican Party. If a voter writes him in, that vote would be counted as a generic write-in vote, but there wouldn’t be a total listed for Weld votes.
Q: Is it too late to get a replacement ballot if mine was lost?
A: Contact your county elections office for details. King County Elections says you can call by Monday, March 2, and they’ll get a ballot in the mail to you. Or you can visit one of six Vote Center locations listed on the agency website, and they’ll print out a ballot for you up until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Q: How late can I mail or drop off a ballot?
A: You’ve got until 8 p.m. on March 10 if you want to use a drop box. They’re locked and taken away by county elections officials after that. Mailed ballots just have to be postmarked before midnight March 10.