Upcoming Conference | 2019 Re-Wire Policy Conference, Dec 10, 2019 Register

Op-ed: Sen. Sam Hunt on moving the presidential primary

Sen. Sam Hunt is the prime sponsor on SB 5273, which will move Washington’s presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March, pending the governor’s signature. We included the bill and a couple criticisms it attracted in a recent Morning Wire email. Hunt reached out with the following op-ed, explaining his view on the presidential primary.

Having a workable presidential primary will greatly improve the way Washington voters select their delegates to the national party nominating conventions—a few thousand precinct caucus attendees versus millions in a presidential primary.

The issue is not a marketing scheme nor is it designed just to get names and addresses of people who identify with a political party and choose to vote for the candidate of their choice in a primary election. Yes, that occurs, but it’s not the goal of the bill. The national parties, not the Legislature or any other body, establish the rules for selecting delegates and voting for presidential nominees. 

Yes, it is a struggle for some people, but if the state is to participate, we have to follow the rules. That is what the Presidential primary bill does.

The process is about accuracy, accountability, and transparency. We do not want our party nominees to be selected in back rooms by unnamed people who have no accountability to the public.

If one goes to a caucus, he or she provides his or her name and address to party to state residency, voter registration, and that that person considers himself/herself to be a Democrat or Republican. If one votes in a presidential primary, which is part of the process to nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates, as a registered voter, he or she provides name and address and states party preference. That makes it an open and accountable process. If one chooses not to participate, he or she need not attend a caucus or vote. (That is the harsh truth.)

So we have two choices for people participating in the presidential nominating process, hold caucuses where people declare party affiliation in order to support their candidate or hold a Presidential primary where people name a party affiliation when voting.

After 2016 we all heard that people hated precinct caucuses. They were hours long on a weekend day often in a crowded school classroom, with complicated mathematical formulas, trying to figure out how many delegates a presidential candidate was entitled to. There was no way to actually prove if a person was registered to vote. If a person went to the wrong location, chances were he/she missed a chance to participate. People said they wanted a real presidential primary. Now we will have one that counts!

So there is really no way for one’s party preference to be kept private except by not participating in a caucus or voting in a Presidential primary.  In 2016 about 30,000 voters participated in Washington’s precinct caucuses while about 1.5 million voters cast ballots in the presidential primary, even though it was largely a “beauty contest” because Republicans used the primary to select a handful of convention delegates and the Democrats relied on precinct caucuses because there was no verification of Democratic votes.

Please remember that this is a nominating process, not an election.  Democrats only want Democrats to vote for the party’s candidates, as do Republicans. Unlike 31 states and the District of Columbia, party registration in Washington is not required for all elections. The Washington Presidential primary election will apply only to voting in that primary and will not list people as registered by party.

So the goal of the bill is to bring our state primary into conformity with national political party rules so we can use the primary results instead of precinct caucuses. If we do not share information with the parties, then the state will not be allowed to participate in the national nominating process.  And even without a presidential primary, registered voter information is public record; every voter’s name, address, and date of birth is publicly available to political parties, the media, and general public. That is the price for participating in an open, public and accountable nominating process that is not confined to secret gatherings in back rooms.