Friday, January 7, 2011

Washington Primary: Moving Up, Back or Packin' It Up?

The answer, it seems, is "Both A and C", but it depends on which primary you're talking about. That Washington Governor Christine Gregiore called for the elimination of the Evergreen state's presidential primary is old news -- she did that back in December -- but the idea appears to be gaining momentum with Secretary of State Sam Reed now endorsing the idea as well. As was the speculated to be the case in California, with the proposed shift of the primary there, this effort in Washington is a cost saving measure. Of course, it makes more sense in Washington.


Well, the Washington presidential primary has been next to meaningless throughout much of its history. Both parties still use caucuses as a means of allocation national presidential delegates as well. In 2008, the Washington Republican Party allocated 49% of its delegates through the February 19 primary, but had already begun the process of allocating the other 51% during the first round of local caucuses on February 9. Likewise, the Democrats utilized both systems, but the primary was only advisory -- a beauty contest -- while the caucus carried all of the weight in terms of determining the allocation of delegates. If the best the state funded primary can do is allocate 49% of the delegates in but one party's primary, then it may probably be best for the state to save the money and let the two parties foot the bill for their own nominating contests. The Washington state parties have always seemingly valued having more control over the process through the years. [Mike Huckabee didn't think too highly of the caucus process in Washington in 2008.]

California, on the other hand, uses the primary as the, pardon the pun, primary means of allocation and while the move back to June, in conjunction with the other primaries, would save the state some money, it would come at the price of losing a significant say in who the parties' nominees would be. [Nothing, of course, precludes the state from changing its mind in the future when economic forecasts are potentially rosier.]

Washington Secretary of State Reed also made a request that the state legislature move on legislation that would shift the state's primaries for state and local offices up two weeks on the calendar to early August. This would pull the state into compliance with a federal law that passed in 2009 and sought to protect the voting rights of military personnel overseas. FHQ previously mentioned that amendment to a defense authorization bill here, here and here. We don't often talk about the movement of state and local primaries around here, though it is a void in the political science literature I'd like to at some point examine more closely, but this is one of the few instances of movement that has been triggered by this federal legislation. Early on in the new legislative sessions is when we are likely to see more of this sort of action take place.

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