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Democrats block early GOP presidential primary

Secretary of State Kim Wyman

Washington’s 2016 presidential primary voting appears stuck on May 24 instead of being moved up to March, when the results would have a much larger chance of playing a role in the choice of a nominee.

Two proposals to move the primary to March died in a split along party lines Tuesday during a meeting in SeaTac of the Secretary of State’s primary date selection committee.

The committee consists of four Democrats, four Republicans and Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican. Six out of nine members were legally needed to change the current primary date of May 24, 2016 to either March 8 or March 22. All five Republicans voted for both proposals, and all four Democrats voted against each.

It is too early tell whether this dispute will have any practical effect on Washington voters’ ability to influence the selection of party nominees for president. The state Democrats are already are locked into selecting a presidential candidate by caucus on March 26. That means that any Democratic primary voting – at whatever date – will essentially be nothing more than a straw poll.

But state Republicans may use the presidential primary voting in allocating delegate support to candidates. The Republicans are expected to decide on Sept. 12 whether they will pick a presidential candidate in 2016 by caucus, by primary, or by a combination of the two systems.

The state Legislature this year allocated $11.5 million for a statewide primary vote in 2016, which currently requires all ballots to be mailed in by May 24.

Secretary of State Wyman wants to pushed that date up to March in order to make Washington’s primary more relevant nationally. March 8 is her first choice, and March 22 is her second choice.

By May 24, 45 states, comprising 79 percent of the nation’s voters, will have already conducted their presidential primary or caucus votes. Consequently, Washington’s voters won’t have much at stake by May 24, and presidential candidates won’t have any motive to campaign significantly in this state, Wyman said.

On March 8, only 20 states, with 34 percent of the nation’s eligible voters, will have voted. March 1 is Super Tuesday in which 16 mostly Southern and New England state will vote — and Wyman wanted to avoid competing with them for candidates’ attention.

On March 8, however, Washington would compete only with Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii. Realistically, that would have translated to candidates mostly focusing on Michigan and Washington, according to Susan Hutchison, Republican state party chair and a member of the Secretary of State’s primary date committee.

Last April, Washington’s Democratic Party locked itself into a caucus approach in order to meet a May 1 national Democratic Party deadline on this matter. The rationale for a caucus approach rather than a primary was that the state party did not know in April whether the state Legislature would appropriate any money for a 2016 presidential primary, said state party Chair Jaxon Ravens, who is also on the Secretary of State’s committee.

Since a Democratic primary now has no selection purpose, Ravens said, the Democrats want their share of the primary money to be re-appropriated to state education or health programs.

The state Republican Party last used a hybrid primary-caucus approach to delegate allocation in 2008. The state held no presidential primary in 2012. Hutchison said she doesn’t not know how the attendees at a party gathering in the Tri-Cities next month will look at the use of a primary or caucus.

However, Hutchison argued Tuesday in favor of a full primary, saying that Washington has roughly 4 million registered voters, and that 1.5 million voted in 2008. By comparison, the highest Democratic statewide caucus attendance figure was slightly less than 250,000, and the best GOP caucus turnout was about 50,000, she noted.

With all of the Democratic convention delegates to be picked by caucuses on March 26, the party’s committee members argued against any primary ballots prior to that date, maintaining that it would confuse first-time caucus goers on which is the real selection process. A two-month wait from the March 26 caucuses to the May 24 primary would be less confusing, Ravens contended.

However, Republican committee members argued that the March 8 and March 26 primary dates would force presidential candidates to actually campaign in Washington rather than their usual zipping in and out of for fundraisers that are closed to the public. And with a Washington primary earlier in the election year, Washingtonians would be more inclined to participate, they said.

Hutchison criticized the Democrats’ argument that their caucus-goers would get confused by an accompanying primary vote. “You think so little of the people who caucus with you,” she said.

“I’m angry and the people of Washington state will be angry,” Hutchison said after the meeting. The Democrats, she added, “love their old-fashioned caucus process … where only a fraction of the people participate.”

Legally, the Secretary of State’s committee has until Oct. 1 to revisit the issue — if its members want to.

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