If you are one of Washington’s 4.5 million registered voters, you soon should be receiving a ballot for the March 10 presidential primary.
The primary holds new significance this year — especially for Democrats, who are using its results to pick a favored candidate in the race to see who will take on President Donald Trump in November.
The state has held a presidential primary since 1992, but Democrats have historically disregarded the election, sticking with caucuses to award delegates to candidates. This year, the party changed up and agreed to go with the primary.
With the primary date moved up earlier than ever, and the Democratic nomination far from decided, Washington’s vote could matter more than in past years.
On the Republican side of the ballot, there is no competition, as Trump is the sole choice. Still, the state GOP is pushing for high turnout to demonstrate enthusiasm for his reelection.
For voters, the presidential primary typically stirs some confusion — and irritation — as it is the only election in which Washingtonians are forced to declare themselves members of a particular political party in order for their votes to count.
To help you sort it out, here are some questions and answers about the primary.
Q: Why are there still 13 Democrats on the ballot? Didn’t Cory Booker and Andrew Yang drop out?
A: The roster had to be finalized and printed in January so ballots could be printed and mailed to military and overseas voters. Five candidates on the ballot have since ended their campaigns: Booker, Yang, Michael Bennet, Deval Patrick and John Delaney.
Q: If I vote for a candidate who has stopped campaigning, will my vote be counted?
A: Yes. The votes will count, and theoretically a candidate who is no longer running could capture some share of delegates from Washington. Those delegates would be bound to their candidate on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention. They’d be free to switch to other candidates during subsequent rounds of convention voting.
Q: Why are Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg listed near the top of the ballot, while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are down lower?
A: It’s no conspiracy, just alphabetical order.
Q: What’s the deal with these party declarations?
A: Unlike many states, Washington does not have partisan voter registration. But the parties still want to control their presidential-nomination processes and prevent outsiders from meddling. The state can’t force the Democratic or Republican parties to honor the presidential primary results. So the partisan oath requirement in the primary law represents a sort of compromise to encourage the parties to use the results.
Q: So I can’t vote in both the Democratic and Republican primaries?
A: No. You have to pick a party and vote for candidates only on that side. If you try to vote in both, your ballot will be invalid.
Q: Is it really a crime to falsely declare as a Democrat if I’m actually a Republican? Or vice versa?
A: Theoretically, yes. As the ballot says, “Falsely signing this declaration is a felony punishable by a maximum imprisonment of five years, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both.” But elections officials say no one has ever been charged under this law. It’s been an honor system.
Q: I’m a Republican and want to mess with the Democrats by voting for the candidate I think Trump can pummel most easily. What’s to stop me from voting in the Democratic primary?
A: As mentioned above, this is against the law. It’s not likely anyone will track you down, but do you want this on your conscience? It also would subtract from Trump’s vote total. State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said he is urging Republicans to vote for Trump and not encouraging shenanigans.
Q: What if I’m an independent or a socialist or a libertarian?
A: Doesn’t matter. You still have to declare that you consider yourself a Republican or a Democrat if you want to vote in this primary.
Q: Can other people find out which party’s ballot I choose?
A: Yes. While the candidate you vote for is confidential, the choice of a particular party’s ballot is public information. The state keeps that data for 60 days. Both parties will receive the data, and media organizations and others can also obtain it.
Q: Does picking one party’s ballot limit who I can vote for later?
A: No. The choice only affects this primary. You’ll get a regular ballot in late October and are free to vote however you want by Nov. 3 — for a Republican, a Democrat or a minor-party candidate.
Q: I like Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. Can I vote for both?
A: Nope. As usual, you get one vote for a single candidate. Voting for two will invalidate your ballot.
Q: What’s turnout going to be like?
A: Secretary of State Kim Wyman and King County Elections Director Julie Wise say they expect higher turnout than in any previous presidential primary here. The previous high mark was 43% in 2000. In 2016, the presidential primary drew 35% of registered voters.
Q: How will presidential delegates be allocated?
A: Washington Democrats will award their 89 pledged delegates to candidates who get at least 15% of the vote, in proportion to their vote share. Of those, 58 will be allocated on the basis of votes in each of the state’s congressional districts. The remaining 31 will be awarded based on the statewide vote. Republicans will award 44 delegates based on the primary.
Q: How does the math work for splitting up the Democratic delegates?
A: Let’s say three candidates meet the 15% threshold to win delegates based on the statewide vote. Candidate A gets 40%, Candidate B gets 25%, and Candidate C gets 15%. The state’s 31 statewide delegates would be awarded as follows: 15 to Candidate A, 10 to Candidate B, and 6 to Candidate C. The same process would apply to divvy up delegates in each of the state’s 10 congressional districts, which have varying numbers of delegates.
Q: Are the Republicans and Democrats holding caucuses still? Why?
A: The parties will still hold caucuses to debate their platforms and pick which people get to travel as delegates to the Republican and Democratic conventions. But they’ll play no role in picking the nominees.
Q: Hi, I’m Wolf Blitzer. Will we know the full election results right away on March 10?
A: Silly Wolf. Washington’s all-mail elections require some patience. While a candidate might jump to a big lead on election night, it’ll take several more days for all the votes to be counted. King County Elections Director Julie Wise says the county typically tries to have about 50% of the expected ballots counted on election night.