Presidential Primary bill will encourage more voter participation, says Wyman
It’s time for Washington to move its Presidential Primary earlier in the year so the state has a more relevant role in choosing the Democratic and Republican nominees, Secretary of State Kim Wyman told a House panel.
Wyman testified Wednesday afternoon before the House State Government, Elections and Information Technology Committee on Senate Bill 5333, a bipartisan proposal prime-sponsored by Sen. Mark Miloscia, chair of the Senate State Government Committee. The Senate passed the measure 34-15 earlier this session.
The bill would modify the state’s Presidential Primary, including moving its date from the fourth Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March.
“The proposed changes in SB 5333 address three key barriers to participation we see in the current law and provides some flexibility for regional primaries with other western states,” Wyman told legislators.
“First, an earlier Presidential Primary date in March will improve the relevance of the event in the national nominating process by allowing Washington voters to vote earlier in the process.
“Second, restoring the ability for voters to cast an unaffiliated ballot in addition to the Democrat and Republican declarations will provide the opportunity for many more voters to have their voices heard, while still preserving the political parties’ confidence that those casting a party ballot are members of their respective parties.
“Third, we want to improve our ability to remove candidates that have left or suspended their campaigns and remove their names from the ballots before they are printed. This will help instill more voter confidence that the primary is meaningful.”
Wyman told the committee that Washington has the third-highest number of electoral votes west of the Mississippi River, “yet our state rarely gets presidential candidates to come here and campaign. Candidates visit our state to raise money, not hear what is important to our state’s voters.”
Under the measure, the votes of unaffiliated voters would be tallied separately from party votes. Washington’s Presidential Primary allowed unaffiliated votes until the 2008 primary.
“A key reason why we saw a drop in turnout for our Presidential Primary last year is because voters have to request either a Democratic or Republican ballot, and many voters don’t want to be affiliated with any party. Restoring the unaffiliated option will boost voter turnout,” Wyman said.
The bill would also allow removal of candidates from the ballot if they die, withdraw or suspend their campaign prior to the election. Last year, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson dropped out of the race nearly three months before Washington’s Presidential Primary, but the state Elections Division could not remove Carson’s name from the ballot because Carson did not submit a Withdrawal of Candidacy.