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.