Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Washington Presidential Primary Will Remain in May

A bipartisan committee made up of Washington state party members, state legislators and the secretary of state convened Tuesday, August 11 in Seattle and voted to keep the presidential primary in the Evergreen state in May.

Partisan differences and the procedures behind the voting process signaled the outcome ahead of time. First, there were five Republican members and four Democratic members of the group, and the two parties were differently motivated. The Republicans, led by Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R), initially proposed a March 8 primary date, a proposal that would have moved the election up from the fourth Tuesday in May as called for in state law.1 That earlier calendar position would have done more to guarantee Republican voters in the state the opportunity to cast their ballots in a competitive nomination at a point in which the nominee had yet to be (definitively) determined. The fact that the primary election will determine the allocation of approximately half of the Washington delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland was another impetus for Republican action.

Washington Democrats, however, have less of a stake in the primary and its scheduling. The state party has already committed to conducting caucuses as a means of allocating its delegates in 2016. Unlike their Republican counterparts, national Democratic Party delegate selection rules prohibit the allocation of delegates across two contests. The possibility of double voting -- voting in both a primary and a caucus -- was concern enough for the DNC to eliminate the practice in all states but Texas years ago. Already locked into March 26 caucuses, then, Evergreen state Democrats had no real incentive to move the date of an election that was nothing more than a beauty contest to the party.

Needing two-thirds of the group -- six of nine members -- to sign off on a change of the primary date and facing a 5-4 split on the committee, the writing was already on the wall. That vote held for the initial proposal to move the primary to March 8 and for a second proposal to shift the contest to March 22.2

That keeps the Washington presidential primary on May 24. But both parties will have caucuses as well. The Democrats has set to hold March 26 caucus meetings while the Republican Party in the state has yet to settle on a date for its precinct meetings.

1 The law also allows the secretary of state and a bipartisan committee the ability to change the date if the legislature does not.

2 Both dates would have aligned the Washington presidential primary with similar contests in other western states. Neighboring Idaho will hold a March 8 presidential primary and Arizona and Utah will have delegate selection events on March 22.

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