Thursday, January 31, 2019

Washington Senate Passes Democratic March Presidential Primary Bill

In a 29-18 vote that largely fell along party lines, the Washington state Senate passed SB 5273 on Wednesday. Two Republicans joined all but one of the Democrats in the upper chamber in forming a majority in support of the measure to shift up the date of the presidential primary in the Evergreen state but also define other aspects of the process like who can participate.

As the vote on final passage approached, the floor debate resembled the battle lines drawn earlier in committee hearings on this bill and a rival option state Senate Republicans and Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) backed. The date change was consistent across both bills -- the second Tuesday in March -- but the dispute centered on whether unaffiliated voters would be able to participate in the process (without having to swear an oath to one party or the other in order to participate).1

An amendment was offered to the bill by Senator Hans Zeigler (R-25th, Puyallup) to insert the provision allowing unaffiliated participation from the Republican-backed bill, but it was defeated in a near party-line vote. Despite the chamber's rejection of the amendment, Zeigler joined Democrats in passing the Democratic version creating a partisan presidential primary.

Proponents of the Democratic version of the bill, including Senator Sam Hunt (D-22nd, Olympia), the chair of the referring State Government Committee, argued that their alternative without the unaffiliated option conformed best to national party delegate selection rules. Furthermore, the argument went, given national party rule compliance, the Democratic alternative would best insure that the two parties could both utilize the presidential primary option rather than caucuses.

The lone Democrat to oppose final passage was Senator Tim Sheldon (D-35th, Mason) who balked at the use of taxpayer money to fund a partisan election that would exclude unaffiliated voters.

Wyman celebrated the passage of the legislation but lamented that it did not include any provision to allow unaffiliated voters to participate unfettered in the process. The measure now moves on to the state House for consideration there. Similar, House-originated legislation is already active in the lower chamber.

1 Under the provisions of the Democratic alternative -- the one ultimately passed -- the decisions made by voters as to which party they swear an oath to, and thus which party's primary in which they are participating, would be made public. Essentially the ballot choice but not the vote choice is made public; information the political parties value for general election campaigns. Importantly, this is an action commonly taken in other states lacking formal party voter registration.

Washington State Legislation Would Again Try to Move Presidential Primary to March

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