Washington’s presidential primary is March 10

Office of Secretary of State Kim Wyman offers Q & A for voter

OLYMPIA — On Tue., March 10, Washington voters will have an opportunity to cast their vote for which presidential candidate they believe should receive their party’s nomination. As a result of new legislation championed by Secretary of State Kim Wyman in 2019, Washington voters will have the opportunity to play a more prevalent role in the nomination process.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman
Secretary of State Kim Wyman

“This is an exciting opportunity for Washington voters to have a greater voice in the nomination process for U.S. president,” said Wyman. “In addition to occurring earlier in the year, this primary will also mark the first time in state history both major political parties will use the results to allocate their delegates for the parties’ national conventions.”  

2016 was the first year the Washington State Republican Party used the results of the presidential primary to allocate their delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Since ballots began arriving in mailboxes, the Office of the Secretary of State has fielded a variety of questions about the primary:

Q: Why do I need to mark a party box?

A: For the March 10 Presidential Primary only, the major political parties require voters to choose a party in order to participate in the nomination process. Your choice of party will not affect how you may vote in future elections. You must mark and sign the political party declaration (box) on your envelope for your vote to count, per RCW 29A.56.050.

Your party declaration is a public record in the voter registration database for 60 days after the election. However, who you vote for is not. When election officials receive ballots for the March 10 presidential primary, they will sort ballots into two stacks – a Democratic pile and a Republican pile. Each ballot envelope is checked by trained election workers who verify the signature on the envelope matches the signature in your voter registration record. If your ballot passes that signature check, an election official credits you for voting, notes your party preference, and then separates your ballot from your envelope in order to maintain the secrecy of your vote. Ballots in the Democrat pile count votes for Democratic candidates and vice versa for Republicans.  

Q: So, if I don’t want to declare a party affiliation, I can’t vote in the March 10 presidential primary?

A: In order for your vote to be counted, you must sign a party declaration on your ballot envelope. The presidential primary in March is a nomination process conducted for major political party candidates for U.S. president only. If and how you vote in March will not affect how you may vote in any other election.

Secretary Wyman has advocated for several years for the state Legislature to reinstate an “unaffiliated” option for voters, allowing voters who do not wish to declare a party to still participate in the primary. Wyman’s request legislation over the years to restore “unaffiliated” as an option has not been approved by lawmakers.

Q: What are “Uncommitted Delegates?”

A: Your ballot will have an option to vote for “Uncommitted Delegates.” The uncommitted option was requested by the Democratic Party. It was not requested by the Republican Party.

You may vote for one candidate or the uncommitted option, but not both. A vote for one candidate listed on the ballot directs party delegates to support that candidate at their national convention. A vote for “Uncommitted Delegates” allows uncommitted delegates who represent Washington to decide during their national convention.

Q: Why are candidates who have dropped out of the race still on my ballot?

A: Each major political party decides which candidates are printed on their side of the ballot. On Jan. 7, each major party submitted its final list of names to the Secretary of State’s Office for ballot materials. Once the party’s list of candidates is submitted to the Secretary of State, changes cannot be made.

Q: If I’ve already sent in my ballot but my candidate dropped out of the race, can I change my vote?

A: Once you return your ballot, you cannot change your vote. You can check the status of your ballot on VoteWA.gov. If you have filled out your ballot but have not yet turned it in, you can print a replacement ballot on VoteWA.gov or obtain a new ballot at your county election office. 

Q: What is the difference between the presidential primary and the primary in August?

A: The presidential primary in March is a nomination process conducted for major political party candidates for U.S. president only. The August primary is when voters in our state narrow down the field of candidates to the top two finishers who qualify for the November general election.

Voters are not required to sign a party declaration to participate in the August primary nor the November general election.

Q: Why are only Democratic and Republican candidates included on the ballot?

A: According to state law, presidential primaries are available to “…a political party whose nominees for president and vice president received at least five percent of the total vote cast at the last presidential election.” (RCW 29A.04.086)

Currently, only the Republican and Democratic parties qualify as major political parties. The presidential primary offers a unique opportunity to participate in the nomination process of major political party candidates. Unlike other elections in our state, voters mark and sign a party declaration on the ballot return envelope.

For additional questions, voters may view the Secretary of State Office’s presidential primary FAQ webpage here. Questions may also be directed to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division or to county election officials.

Individuals who have not yet registered to vote in the upcoming presidential primary still have time. You may register in person at your county election office through 8 p.m. March 10.

Voters have through 8 p.m. election night to make their selections and return their voted ballots to county election officials.

Washington’s Office of 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.

Information provided by Washington’s Office of Secretary of State Communications.