Opinion: The Wacky Washington Presidential Primary

Nancy Churchill encourages Washingtonians to make sure your vote counts.

Nancy Churchill encourages Washingtonians to make sure your vote counts

Nancy Churchill
Dangerous Rhetoric

Who would think voting in a presidential primary could be so controversial? One voter’s distraught post on social media giant x.com got questioned by cartoonist Scott Adams and Elon Musk, bringing nation-wide news attention to our state’s unique requirement to select a political party preference on the outer mailing envelope.

Nancy Churchill
Nancy Churchill

According to Rep. Jim Walsh in a very interesting interview with Brandi Kruse, this party selection requirement was imposed on voters by the ruling Democratic party in 2019… in other words for two presidential primary elections: 2020 and 2024. Several Republican efforts to change the requirement to give voters more privacy have been killed by the ruling Democrat party.

When Washington state’s presidential primary ballots hit mailboxes Feb. 22, there were immediately a lot of voters concerned they had to declare a party preference on the outside of the mailing envelope. The directions are very clear: If the voter doesn’t mark the party preference on the outside envelope, his or her vote won’t be counted.

Rep. Walsh reminded listeners that this one election, the presidential primary, is the only time Washington voters have to choose a party. And this choice does not apply to any future election. He also made the point that putting the party preference on the outside was an administrative choice by the Secretary of State, not a legal decision.

On top of the lack of privacy, there’s another potential problem. If your outside party preference doesn’t match the inside vote, your ballot ALSO won’t be counted. However, you won’t KNOW it didn’t count, because the outer envelope is separated from the inner secure envelope before the inner envelope is opened.

Based on what I’ve observed in other elections here’s what I think the elections process will be for this election. Imagine that the election staff sorts 10 ballots for Precinct 101, and ends up with exactly five Democrat ballots and five Republican ballots. The outer envelopes are opened and the inner envelopes are set aside in the proper stack. Next, the outer envelopes for each group are counted and put aside. Five and five.

Next step, the now anonymous ballots of one group (let’s pick the Democrat stack) are opened and scanned. Weirdly, there are two Republican ballots in that stack, which the scanner will flag as invalid. There are now three Democrat ballots and the two invalid votes are set aside for additional checks by staff. Five ballots were processed, but only three will count in that group.

The invalid votes just get ignored, as there’s no way to go back and determine whose outer envelope didn’t match the ballot. Once the inner and outer envelope are separated, elections officials can’t call the voter up and ask which party he or she really wanted to vote for.

That means voters who play around and try to game the system to protect their privacy are basically throwing away the chance to vote in the presidential primary. Many people on social media were upset about the invasion of their privacy. After all, this envelope is a public record, available by public records request for 60 days after the election.

Additionally, some people worry that this system will result in minority Republican votes being thrown away, leading to greater distrust in the already mistrusted mail-in voting system. Fortunately, you can track your ballot and make sure at least that it got to the Auditor’s office. And if it never arrives, you can vote again.

Another friend wrote me and asked what the independent voters were supposed to do—they didn’t want to chose either party. There’s no help for it. Be bold, and vote for the candidate you support this time, and declare the appropriate party. In four years, you’re free to make another choice.

Finally, there are names of candidates on the ballot in both parties who have already withdrawn from the race. They paid to be there, so there they are. It’s up to the voter to choose a candidate who is still in the race.

Oh, and one other interesting thing. The Democrat party rules are different that the Republican party rules. Democrats also have the option to vote for “uncommitted delegates.” According to former Washington State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich, “It’s been a provision in the DNC rules since at least 2016 and the State Dems rules allow for it. If ‘uncommitted’ earned enough votes then those delegates elected at their state convention would not be bound to any candidate on the first round of voting.”

Now that you understand this wacky Washington presidential primary ballot, please be sure to vote soon. The last day to vote is Tuesday, March 12. DON’T LOSE YOUR BALLOT. DON’T FORGET TO VOTE! And to protect your privacy as much as possible, I recommend that you use a drop box this time, so that only elections staff are seeing your outer ballot envelope.

Nancy Churchill is a writer and activist in rural eastern Washington State, and the state committeewoman for the Ferry County Republican Party. She may be reached at DangerousRhetoric@pm.me. The opinions expressed in Dangerous Rhetoric are her own.

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