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O’Ban introduces bill to eliminate party declaration requirement from ballots

Today, Sen. Steve O’Ban introduced a bill that would eliminate the requirement to declare one’s primary affiliation when voting in Washington state’s presidential primary.

In order for one’s vote to be counted in the presidential primary—unlike other elections in Washington—voters are required to sign a declaration stating whether they identify as Republicans or Democrats during the election. 

The signed declarations are recorded by the parties and held by elections officials for 60 days. According to reporting from the Seattle Times, the declarations are considered public information and can be obtained by other groups.

Voters declare their party affiliation on the back of the mailing envelope containing their ballot. O’Ban argues that the declaration requirement is a violation of privacy.

We have a duty to protect the sanctity of a secret ballot by keeping the outside of the mailing envelope free of any hint about the vote inside. It’s not the mail carrier’s, or anyone else’s, business if the ballot inside might support a Republican or Democrat candidate. Voters have a right to be concerned about Washington’s current primary.” 

O’Ban’s bill, SB 6697, would require county auditors to use an additional envelope for presidential primary ballots to ensure that a voter’s party affiliation is not visible in transit to the voting center. It would also allow voters the option of declaring no party affiliation and requires that those unaffiliated ballots be counted and reported separately.

A recent ballot status report issued by the Washington Secretary of State revealed that nearly 36,000 primary ballots in Washington have been disqualified for not indicating a party affiliation.

The issue attracted attention recently when Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, said she wouldn’t vote in the state’s primary due to the declaration requirement. 

The current protocol regarding party affiliation declarations stems from a 2019 bill which helped allow Washington to move up its primary date to March 10th.

The declarations are not included inside the mailing envelope because current law requires that election staff not be able to see a ballot and any personal information that would tie it to a voter at the same time. 

The only alternative, O’Ban argues, is for an additional envelope, to be used as a barrier.

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