Hillary Clinton greets supporters at a rally in Seattle
Hillary Clinton greets supporters at a rally in Seattle (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Demo­c­ra­t­ic fron­trun­ner Hillary Clin­ton has swept to vic­to­ry in Wash­ing­ton’s 2016 Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, which the par­ty won’t be using to allo­cate any del­e­gates to the 2016 DNC in Philadel­phia, ear­ly results show.

With 661,403 bal­lots cast and count­ed so far, Clin­ton has a healthy 47,973 vote lead over Bernie Sanders, and is ahead in the state’s most pop­u­lous coun­ties, includ­ing the Big Three (King, Pierce, and Snohomish).

How­ev­er, Jef­fer­son, San Juan, and Whit­man coun­ties — which tend to vote against Tim Eyman’s destruc­tive ini­tia­tives more reli­ably than any coun­ty except for King — were back­ing Sanders. So were vot­ers in What­com and Thurston counties.

Sanders also had leads in a num­ber of east­ern Wash­ing­ton coun­ties that don’t usu­al­ly sup­port Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates at any level.

Because the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s Del­e­gate Selec­tion and Affir­ma­tive Action Plan pro­vides for nation­al con­ven­tion del­e­gates to be allo­cat­ed to can­di­dates through cau­cus­es, tonight’s pri­ma­ry results are essen­tial­ly a straw poll with a mas­sive num­ber of par­tic­i­pants. In oth­er words, they’re symbolic.

Sanders com­plete­ly rout­ed Clin­ton in the March 26th Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial precinct cau­cus­es and sub­se­quent April 17th leg­isla­tive dis­trict cau­cus­es, where the del­e­gates to the con­gres­sion­al dis­trict lev­el were chosen.

The just-held con­gres­sion­al dis­trict cau­cus­es on Sat­ur­day, May 21st pro­duced a statewide allo­ca­tion of sev­en­ty-four nation­al del­e­gates for Sanders, and twen­ty-sev­en for Clin­ton. This allo­ca­tion will be used at the State Con­ven­tion next month when the at-large and PLEO (Par­ty Leader and Elect­ed Offi­cial) del­e­gates — which rep­re­sent about a third of the total of pledged del­e­gates — are chosen.

State law requires elec­tions offi­cials to hold a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry every four years, but in prac­tice, it has been held every eight years (when there is no incum­bent Pres­i­dent seek­ing reelec­tion). The Leg­is­la­ture opt­ed to fund the elec­tion in its bien­ni­al bud­get last year, and accord­ing­ly, it was duly held.

As elec­tions offi­cials stressed in the voter’s pam­phlet and else­where, what the par­ties do with the results is up to them. The par­ties have a First Amend­ment right to freely assem­ble, and it’s up to their gov­ern­ing bod­ies to decide what rules and pro­ce­dures to use in the nom­i­nat­ing of candidates.

The Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has a long tra­di­tion of allo­cat­ing its nation­al con­ven­tion del­e­gates through the cau­cus and con­ven­tion cycle. The Par­ty’s State Cen­tral Com­mit­tee (which I am a mem­ber of) vot­ed over­whelm­ing­ly to stick with that tra­di­tion last year when it drew up its DNC-approved 2016 Del­e­gate Selec­tion and Affir­ma­tive Action Plan (DSAAP).

How­ev­er, 2016 may be the last cycle with a cau­cus-only DSAAP. An increas­ing num­ber of Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists have come to the con­clu­sion that it would be worth­while to incor­po­rate a pri­ma­ry into the DSAAP, while retain­ing the cau­cus­es for the pur­pos­es of del­e­gate selec­tion. This is the approach that I myself favor.

With a bind­ing pri­ma­ry, we’d get more par­tic­i­pa­tion than with the caucuses.

Uti­liz­ing a pri­ma­ry to allo­cate all the nation­al con­ven­tion del­e­gates would allow peo­ple who want to have a say in the nom­i­nat­ing process to par­tic­i­pate with­out hav­ing to show up at a cau­cus. Par­ty lead­ers would then be free to orga­nize cau­cus­es and con­ven­tions for a small­er num­ber of par­tic­i­pants who actu­al­ly want to be there. Those inter­est­ed in com­ing togeth­er in per­son to build a plat­form, run for del­e­gate, pass res­o­lu­tions, and meet Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists from their area would con­tin­ue to be able to do all those things in a hybrid primary+caucus system.

There’s no way of know­ing how the results would have turned out had today’s pri­ma­ry been a bind­ing elec­tion, with del­e­gate allo­ca­tion on the line.

As NPI’s Pres­i­dent Robert Cruick­shank has point­ed out, nei­ther of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns ran any GOTV (get-out-the-vote) oper­a­tions in advance of the pri­ma­ry. Still, it’s worth not­ing that Wash­ing­ton’s four mil­lion plus vot­ers were mailed bal­lots, and more than a quar­ter of them sent them back. There are still a lot of votes left to count, too, so the turnout will con­tin­ue to go up.

How does this com­pare to cau­cus turnout? Well, the state par­ty says around 230,000 peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ed in this year’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial precinct cau­cus­es. So the uni­verse of vot­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in the non­bind­ing, sym­bol­ic Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry (so far) is about three time bigger.

When mak­ing com­par­isons, it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that the uni­verse of Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton is only a sub­set of the over­all elec­torate. I keep see­ing reporters and com­men­ta­tors mea­sure Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus turnout against the total num­ber of reg­is­tered vot­ers. When you do that, it yields a fig­ure of around 6%. But this fig­ure is total­ly mean­ing­less, because not every Wash­ing­ton vot­er is a Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­er inter­est­ed in help­ing choose the par­ty’s nominees.

Let’s sup­pose, for the sake of argu­ment, that one in every four reg­is­tered vot­ers iden­ti­fies with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. There are cur­rent­ly 4,087,920 vot­ers on our state’s rolls at present, so that’s a uni­verse of 1,021,980 Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers. By doing some sim­ple arith­metic, we can see that 230,000 of 1,021,980 is 22.5%. That’s a much more respectable turnout fig­ure than 6%.

Of course, we can’t know for sure exact­ly how many of the state’s vot­ers con­sid­er them­selves Demo­c­ra­t­ic, since we don’t have par­ty reg­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton. We can only guess and use sur­vey data to make our guess­es edu­cat­ed. Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, we know what­ev­er the num­ber is, it’s a fluc­tu­at­ing figure.

In pres­i­den­tial years, the num­ber of vot­ers who tell poll­sters they’re Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers is marked­ly high­er than in midterm or local elec­tion years.

In 2012, for instance, Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling con­duct­ed sur­veys in which 36% of respon­dents iden­ti­fied them­selves as Democrats.

If we go by that four year old fig­ure and assume that 36% of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers are Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers, then our uni­verse is 1,471,651 vot­ers. 230,000 of 1,471,651.2 is approx­i­mate­ly 15.6%, which is still a lot high­er than 6%.

I’m impressed that although the mass media has been advis­ing vot­ers for weeks that the Wash­ing­ton Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry was only sym­bol­ic (and the Repub­li­can con­test over), more than a quar­ter of the state’s reg­is­tered vot­ers sent back their bal­lots any­way. And a major­i­ty of the returned bal­lots are Demo­c­ra­t­ic, befit­ting of Wash­ing­ton’s sta­tus as a blue state.

The last time Wash­ing­ton held a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry was eight years ago, in 2008, dur­ing the mar­quee matchup between Hillary Clin­ton and Barack Oba­ma. Then, as now, the pri­ma­ry was held after the precinct cau­cus­es had been held. (Both events were in Feb­ru­ary, as opposed to March and May).

Oba­ma eas­i­ly defeat­ed Clin­ton in the cau­cus­es, then went on to win the non-bind­ing, “straw poll” pri­ma­ry by a much nar­row­er margin.

Oba­ma received 354,112 votes (51.22% of the total), while Clin­ton got 315,744 (45.67%). A total of 691,381 votes were cast in that elec­tion, com­pared to 661,403 this year. 111,200 bal­lots are on hand that have yet to be processed by coun­ty elec­tions offi­cials, accord­ing to the Sec­re­tary of State.

Assum­ing around half of those are Demo­c­ra­t­ic bal­lots, we are already on track to sur­pass the 2008 Demo­c­ra­t­ic turnout. That’s note­wor­thy, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that 2016 Demo­c­ra­t­ic precinct cau­cus turnout did­n’t quite match the high-water mark set in Feb­ru­ary 2008 when Oba­ma and Clin­ton were squar­ing off.

It should also be not­ed that the 2008 pri­ma­ry took place much ear­li­er in the nom­i­nat­ing sea­son (Feb­ru­ary 19, 2008 — before many states had vot­ed), while the 2016 pri­ma­ry is tak­ing place rather late in the sea­son (May 24th, 2016 — with most states hav­ing already voted).

There may be a cor­re­la­tion between this year’s high­er turnout and Wash­ing­ton’s switch to vote-by-mail. For the 2008 elec­tions, vot­ers in urban coun­ties like King and Pierce were not mailed bal­lots unless they had reg­is­tered to vote absen­tee. Since then, how­ev­er, coun­ty elec­tions offi­cials have done away with polling places and every­one gets a bal­lot in the mail with three weeks to fill it out and return it.

That said, vote-by-mail has­n’t been a guar­an­tor of robust turnout. Last year, Wash­ing­ton expe­ri­enced its worst-ever gen­er­al elec­tion turnout since vot­er reg­is­tra­tion began in the 1930s. Mil­lions of bal­lots were mailed out, but most were not returned to a drop box or through the Postal Service.

The turnout we’re see­ing cer­tain­ly sug­gests many vot­ers were enthu­si­as­tic about par­tic­i­pat­ing in the state’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, even if they knew the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty was­n’t going to uti­lize the results.

The cam­paigns may not have done any GOTV, but the dis­par­i­ty between the cau­cus results and the pri­ma­ry results is still striking.

Though the pri­ma­ry returns won’t influ­ence the del­e­gate allo­ca­tion, Hillary Clin­ton sup­port­ers can still take solace in know­ing that a great many of their friends and neigh­bors are for Clin­ton. She’s like­ly to be the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee in July, and she will need Wash­ing­ton in her col­umn to win the pres­i­den­cy this November.

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 “Hillary Clinton wins Washington’s (nonbinding) Democratic presidential primary”

  1. So, here’s the dilem­ma, what do the so called super del­e­gates do? Does this give them an out to vote for Hilary? Does the split vote allow them to vote their con­science? Was the Hilary win based on non Democ­rats want­i­ng the “weak­er” can­di­date? Stay tuned!

  2. So. how much did the pri­ma­ry we just went through cost and what was the return on that invest­ment? What could we have accom­plished in vot­er edu­ca­tion and get out the vote activ­i­ties instead?

    What do I need to learn in order to ful­ly appre­ci­ate and sup­port the vot­ing sys­tem cur­rent­ly in place in this state?


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