Kim Wyman
Official portrait of Kim Wyman

A pro­pos­al by Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman to move up the date of Wash­ing­ton’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry from its default date of May 24th to March 8th failed to move for­ward today at a mid­day meet­ing of major par­ty and leg­isla­tive cau­cus lead­er­ship due to oppo­si­tion from Democrats.

Wyman had called a meet­ing of the state’s major par­ty chairs, vice chairs, and cau­cus lead­ers (or their designees) to see if she could win approval to move the pri­ma­ry for­ward by more than two months in the calendar.

The four Repub­li­cans (con­sist­ing of State Repub­li­can Chair Susan Hutchi­son, Vice Chair Jim Walsh, top Sen­ate Repub­li­can Mark Schoesler, and House Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Matt Man­weller) were all in favor and vot­ed to sup­port Wyman, but the four Democ­rats (State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair Jax­on Ravens, DNC mem­ber Sharon Mast, top Sen­ate Demo­c­rat Sharon Nel­son, and House Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sam Hunt) opposed the motion. Mast filled in for Valerie Brady Rongey, Man­weller filled in for Dan Kris­tiansen, and Hunt filled in for Speak­er Frank Chopp.

Because state law requires a two-thirds vote of the afore­men­tioned com­mit­tee to change the pri­ma­ry date, the motion was rejected.

Democ­rats’ oppo­si­tion to chang­ing the date stemmed from the fact that they will not be using the pri­ma­ry to allo­cate any delegates.

The Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee (of which I am a mem­ber) vot­ed by a nine-to-one ratio in April to allo­cate all of its del­e­gates to the 2016 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion via cau­cus. The par­ty’s precinct cau­cus­es will take place on March 26th, the same date as those of Alas­ka and Hawaii Democrats.

A March 8th pri­ma­ry would be con­fus­ing, the Democ­rats argued, because it would hap­pen before the par­ty’s already-sched­uled precinct cau­cus­es. Vot­ers might think that by cast­ing their votes in the pri­ma­ry, they’d be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the process of choos­ing del­e­gates to the nation­al con­ven­tion — but they would not be.

The Democ­rats also explained that nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty rules express­ly for­bid Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates from par­tic­i­pat­ing in pri­maries that are not bind­ing. The 2016 pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, if held, would amount to a beau­ty con­test for Democ­rats. So mov­ing up the date would only serve to ben­e­fit Republicans.

Repub­li­can Matt Man­weller offered up a pro­pos­al for March 22nd, fol­low­ing the fail­ure of the motion for March 8th, but this was also rejected.

State Repub­li­can Chair Susan Hutchi­son became vis­i­bly annoyed towards the end of the meet­ing, when it became appar­ent that the votes did not exist to move up the date of the pri­ma­ry to any oth­er date. She com­plained vocal­ly that the DNC’s rules were pre­vent­ing the state from hav­ing a mean­ing­ful pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry. This sparked a back-and-forth with State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair Jax­on Ravens.

(It should be not­ed that DNC rules explic­it­ly pre­vent the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty from allo­cat­ing some del­e­gates through cau­cus and some through a pri­ma­ry, while Repub­li­cans have no such restric­tion. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is required to pick just one method for del­e­gate allo­ca­tion, and it has.)

In past cycles, the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture has can­celed the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, there­by negat­ing dis­cus­sions over when the pri­ma­ry should be held. It did not do so this year. Sec­re­tary Wyman asked the Leg­is­la­ture to change the default date of the pri­ma­ry to March 8th, but it declined to act. Leg­is­la­tors instead sim­ply fund­ed the elec­tion in accor­dance with the cur­rent statute.

That stat­ue, RCW 29A.56.020, pro­vides that “On the fourth Tues­day in May of each year in which a pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States is to be nom­i­nat­ed and elect­ed, a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry shall be held at which vot­ers may vote for the nom­i­nee of a major polit­i­cal par­ty for the office of president.”

It then lays out a process for chang­ing the date.

A pro­pos­al to change the date must be agreed to by a two-thirds of a com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of the Sec­re­tary of State, par­ty chairs, par­ty vice chairs, and leg­isla­tive cau­cus lead­ers. The two-thirds thresh­old pre­vents one par­ty (in this case, the Repub­li­cans) from hav­ing the pow­er to change the date of the pri­ma­ry them­selves. At least one mem­ber of the com­mis­sion from the oth­er par­ty must also agree. Since none of the Democ­rats want­ed to move the pri­ma­ry, the date won’t be changed.

The Leg­is­la­ture still has the option of can­cel­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, or set­ting a new default date. But Gov­er­nor Inslee would have to sign off on a pro­pos­al to do either. Con­sid­er­ing the gov­er­nor did not include any fund­ing for a 2016 pri­ma­ry in his bud­get request, it stands to rea­son he would be amenable to can­cel­ing the elec­tion alto­geth­er. That could hap­pen in a spe­cial ses­sion some­time this fall, or per­haps very ear­ly next win­ter dur­ing the 2016 reg­u­lar session.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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2 replies on “Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s plan to move up date of presidential primary not adopted”

  1. There is a good argu­ment for a pri­ma­ry in that allows for increased par­tic­i­pa­tion and the votes are count­ed by elec­tion offi­cials. Also, the Repub­li­cans were burned once when Pat Robert­son orga­nized in every neigh­bor­hood, but that is the beau­ty of the cau­cus­es. It brings neigh­bor­hoods together.

  2. Thank you Andrew for post­ing this. I’d like to add that the nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion, belongs to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (the DNC). The DNC has the exclu­sive right to deter­mine who may par­tic­i­pate in the nom­i­na­tion of its can­di­dates at the Nation­al Con­ven­tion. When our State Par­ty adopts its Del­e­gate Selec­tion Rules and A.A. Plan it must fol­low the rules and pro­ce­dures set by the DNC. Aur­ther­more, no leg­is­la­ture can set or lim­it the rules or the pro­ce­dures for the selec­tion of these del­e­gates. This right is pro­tect­ed by the First Amend­ment which pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from abridg­ing our right to assem­ble and peti­tion the gov­ern­ment. This is why no leg­is­la­ture, or even Con­gress, can tell a polit­i­cal par­ty how it must select Nation­al Con­ven­tion del­e­gates as part of its nom­i­na­tion process. But of course, if the leg­is­la­ture wants to hold its own con­ven­tion and nom­i­nate its own can­di­date for pres­i­dent, it is free to do so under the same First Amend­ment protections.

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