Bill to provide voters ‘unaffiliated’ option during presidential primaries introduced

Currently, state law requires voters to mark and sign the party declaration on their ballot envelope

OLYMPIA — State Rep. Skyler Rude (Republican, Walla Walla) has sponsored request legislation from Secretary of State Kim Wyman to allow for greater voter participation in presidential primaries.

Introduced in the state Legislature this week, House Bill 1265 gives voters an option on the presidential primary ballot to not declare a party affiliation. It allows unaffiliated votes (i.e., those cast by voters who do not indicate their party preference) to qualify for the presidential primary and be counted.

Nearly half of Washington’s registered voters participated in last year’s presidential primary, an all-time high. However, the election drew criticism from voters who objected to affiliating with a political party in order to participate. File photo
Nearly half of Washington’s registered voters participated in last year’s presidential primary, an all-time high. However, the election drew criticism from voters who objected to affiliating with a political party in order to participate. File photo

Currently, state law requires voters to mark and sign the party declaration on their ballot envelope (RCW 29A.56.050). The voter’s party declaration is public record in the voter registration database for 60 days after the election, though their vote is not, and they are bound to vote for a candidate according to their declared affiliation. Ballots left with a party declaration unmarked, or with a vote for a candidate opposite their declared party, are rejected and do not count.

Nearly half of Washington’s registered voters participated in last year’s presidential primary (an all-time high); however, the election drew criticism from voters who objected to affiliating with a political party in order to participate.

In addition, ballot-rejection rates are higher for presidential primaries (e.g., 4 percent for last year’s presidential primary vs. 0.8 percent for the general election), mainly due to voters refusing to disclose their party affiliation on their ballot.

For years Secretary Wyman has advocated for the state Legislature to reinstate an “unaffiliated” option for voters. This option was available during the 1996 and 2000 presidential primaries yet was removed by the Legislature in 2007.

“All voters, including people who do not align with a political party, should have the right to make their voices heard,” she said. “HB 1265 gives unaffiliated voters more freedom of choice and peace of mind, which in turn will increase voter participation and ensure our election results more accurately reflect the will of the people. It is a win-win for voters, for our elections, and for all Washingtonians.”

“Considering our elections are paid for by all taxpayers, it seems only fitting that we find ways to make sure our elections are open and available to all voters,” said Rep. Rude. “The right to vote is a source of pride for so many people; it’s imperative we remove barriers that discourage voters from participating in our democracy. HB 1265 is a step in the right direction, and I encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to pass it.”

HB 1265 was introduced Jan. 18 and is sponsored by Reps. Rude, Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles), Bob Chase (R-Liberty Lake), Carolyn Eslick (R-Sultan), Jenny Graham (R-Spokane), Dan Griffey (R-Allyn), Cyndy Jacobsen (R-Puyallup), Eric Robertson (R-Sumner), and Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen).

Washington’s Office of the Secretary of State oversees a number of areas within state government, including managing state elections, registering corporations and charities, and governing the use of the state flag and state seal. The office also manages the State Archives and the State Library, documents extraordinary stories in Washington’s history through Legacy Washington, oversees the Combined Fund Drive for charitable giving by state employees, and administers the state’s Address Confidentiality Program to help protect survivors of crime.

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