Democratic donkey and Republican elephant
Democratic donkey and Republican elephant

We still have a few more days to go before the 2018 midterm elec­tion is cer­ti­fied (and recounts in sev­er­al leg­isla­tive races slat­ed to begin), but that’s not stop­ping Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman or her fans at the Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al board from turn­ing their atten­tion to the forth­com­ing 2019 leg­isla­tive session.

“Wash­ing­ton vot­ers deserve to have their voic­es heard loud and clear dur­ing the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cycle. That means mov­ing the date of Wash­ing­ton state’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry elec­tion to ear­li­er in the year — and for the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to start using the results,” the Times declared in an edi­to­r­i­al this morn­ing.

NPI agrees that the default date of the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry ought to be moved up to March, and that the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty ought to adopt a Del­e­gate Selec­tion and Affir­ma­tive Action Plan (known as a DSAAP for short) that uti­lizes the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry for the pur­pos­es of del­e­gate allocation.

How­ev­er, before that can hap­pen, a key change needs to be made to the state’s exist­ing pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry law so that it becomes usable by both major parties.

Full dis­clo­sure: I serve on the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee as a vot­ing mem­ber, and I co-chair the par­ty’s Advo­ca­cy Com­mit­tee, respon­si­ble for draft­ing and cham­pi­oning its leg­isla­tive priorities. 

The Times and Wyman seem whol­ly fix­at­ed on get­ting the default date moved up. While it would be nice to have an ear­li­er default date for the elec­tion, the real­i­ty is that exist­ing law already allows the date to be moved up if offi­cials from both par­ties agree. The cur­rent default date isn’t what is stand­ing in the way of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s poten­tial usage of the pres­i­den­tial primary.

Rather, it’s lan­guage in RCW 29A.56.030 that gives Wyman the pow­er to add a name to either of the par­ty’s bal­lots in her sole discretion.

Here’s the first two pro­vi­sions from that RCW:

The name of any can­di­date for a major polit­i­cal par­ty nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States shall be print­ed on the pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence pri­ma­ry bal­lot of a major polit­i­cal par­ty only:

(1) By direc­tion of the sec­re­tary of state, who in the sec­re­tary’s sole dis­cre­tion has deter­mined that the can­di­date’s can­di­da­cy is gen­er­al­ly advo­cat­ed or is rec­og­nized in nation­al news media;

This pro­vi­sion needs to be amend­ed by the Leg­is­la­ture to require Wyman to con­sult with the major par­ties pri­or to adding a name to their bal­lots, and giv­ing the par­ties an oppor­tu­ni­ty to object to any can­di­date’s inclu­sion. With­out such a change, the par­ties could be deprived of their First Amend­ment rights of free assembly.

For exam­ple, Wyman could decide — in her “sole dis­cre­tion” — to put a can­di­date like Lyn­don LaRouche on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic bal­lot, cit­ing cov­er­age of his can­di­da­cy by the “nation­al news media”. There would be noth­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty could do about that. Wyman could do the same thing to the Repub­li­cans as well, but since she is a Repub­li­can her­self, the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­cans prob­a­bly aren’t wor­ried about her adding a name to their bal­lot that they don’t approve of.

The Repub­li­cans can­not, how­ev­er, assume that the Sec­re­tary of State will always be a Repub­li­can who will a friend to them. It is thus in their inter­est as well for this RCW to be amend­ed. It will ensure that our pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry is com­pli­ant with the First Amend­ment, and respect­ful of their rights as well as the Democ­rats’ rights.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee is unlike­ly to autho­rize the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to use the state’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry statute if this change isn’t made, even if the state par­ty want­ed to. So if Wyman and the Times want the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to use the results of the pri­ma­ry, they should back this reform.

They should also aban­don the idea of giv­ing Wyman the pow­er to move the date of her own accord. The cur­rent statute appro­pri­ate­ly requires con­sul­ta­tion with the par­ties regard­ing the date, and that arrange­ment must be pre­served.

The exact tim­ing of a nom­i­nat­ing event can sig­nif­i­cant­ly affect how many del­e­gates a state gets on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic side. It is there­fore imper­a­tive, from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s part of view, that Wyman not be allowed to move the date of her own accord, even if it’s just a change of a week or two.

The Leg­is­la­ture should also tight­en up RCW 29A.56.040 and RCW 29A.56.050 to ensure that elec­tions offi­cials are only includ­ing votes prop­er­ly cast by a vot­er wish­ing to affil­i­ate with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic or Repub­li­can par­ties pri­or to con­vey­ing the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry returns to the parties.

RCW 29A.56.040 could be amend­ed as follows:

(3) Each par­ty’s bal­lot or por­tion of the bal­lot must list alpha­bet­i­cal­ly the names of all qual­i­fied can­di­dates for that par­ty’s nom­i­na­tion for the office of pres­i­dent and no oth­er names. The bal­lot must clear­ly indi­cate the polit­i­cal par­ty of each can­di­date. ((Each bal­lot must include a blank space to allow the vot­er to write in the name of any oth­er candidate.))

And RCW 29A.56.050 could be amend­ed as follows:

(2) If request­ed by a major polit­i­cal par­ty, the sec­re­tary of state shall adopt rules under RCW 29A.04.620 to pro­vide for any dec­la­ra­tion required by that par­ty and to pro­vide that votes cast for that party’s can­di­dates will only be count­ed if cast by a vot­er sub­scrib­ing to that party’s dec­la­ra­tion and no oth­er.

These changes, cou­pled with reform of RCW 29A.56.030, should pro­vide suf­fi­cient assur­ance to the par­ties that the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry will be safe to use.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s basic require­ments for use of a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, as explained by DNC Mem­ber David McDon­ald dur­ing a joint work ses­sion of the House and Sen­ate State Gov­ern­ment Com­mit­tees, are as follows:

  • Lim­it­ed to vot­ers affil­i­at­ed with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty or unaf­fil­i­at­ed with any Par­ty but wish­ing to pub­licly affil­i­ate with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party
  • Assur­ance by ear­ly 2019 that pri­ma­ry is available
  • Can­di­dates on the bal­lot are lim­it­ed to bona fide Democrats
  • Votes must be record­ed and sub­ject to ver­i­fi­ca­tion and recount
  • No con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous beau­ty con­tests or straw polls

Last­ly, a few words about the use of caucuses.

Today’s Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al states:

An ear­li­er and more rel­e­vant pri­ma­ry should make it eas­i­er for the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to dump its out­dat­ed cau­cus sys­tem, which it has used in the past to allo­cate del­e­gates to pres­i­den­tial candidates.

Cau­cus­es are nei­ther out­dat­ed nor anti­quat­ed. It is impor­tant to under­stand that the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is not going to dump them, even if it begins using a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry for del­e­gate allocation.

Why? Because the par­ty still has to decide who goes to the state and nation­al con­ven­tions in sup­port of each can­di­date — and cau­cus­es are by far the best way to do that. The alter­na­tive is let­ting the pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns do the select­ing, which would like­ly mean some­one on the oth­er coast draw­ing up lists of names.

I’m total­ly opposed to that.

Even in this hyper­con­nect­ed era, face-to-face inter­ac­tion — some­times referred to as good old fash­ioned retail pol­i­tics — remains the best way of get­ting out the vote and dis­cussing the issues. A cau­cus is sim­ply a par­ty meet­ing with a spe­cial pur­pose. There is noth­ing “out­dat­ed” about peo­ple get­ting togeth­er in per­son to decide who should rep­re­sent them at the next lev­el in pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing processes.

To put it anoth­er way: Par­ty cau­cus­es are no more “out­dat­ed” than City­Club backed debates or Ignite Edu­ca­tion Lab events orga­nized by The Seat­tle Times.

If the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty starts using a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, cau­cus­es will not go away. This is what you can expect to hap­pen instead:

First: The par­ty will encour­age can­di­dates to come to Wash­ing­ton State and com­pete for votes ahead of the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry. Vot­ers will like­wise be encour­aged to vote the Demo­c­ra­t­ic bal­lot that comes in their mail.

Sec­ond: The elec­tion will be held. Once the votes are count­ed, the par­ty will know how many del­e­gates to allo­cate to each can­di­date that competed.

Can­di­dates that have dropped out or receive very lit­tle sup­port may not qual­i­fy to receive any del­e­gates. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty uses pro­por­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion exclu­sive­ly — there are no “win­ner take all” states — so the del­e­gates will almost cer­tain­ly be divid­ed by two, three, or more candidates.

Third: The par­ty will hold cau­cus­es, most like­ly begin­ning at the leg­isla­tive dis­trict lev­el, to select del­e­gates to the con­gres­sion­al dis­trict and state lev­el. Sub­cau­cus­es con­sist­ing of the sup­port­ers of each of the dif­fer­ent pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns will meet and decide who should rep­re­sent them. How many del­e­gates each can­di­date gets will have been deter­mined by their share of the vote in the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry. At these cau­cus­es there will also be oppor­tu­ni­ties to adopt a plat­form and res­o­lu­tions, and to hear from Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates run­ning for state/local office.

Fourth: The par­ty will then hold a sec­ond round of cau­cus­es at the con­gres­sion­al dis­trict lev­el. At these cau­cus­es, the ini­tial pledged del­e­gates from Wash­ing­ton State to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion will be select­ed, again using the allo­ca­tion deter­mined by the results of the pres­i­den­tial primary.

Fifth: The par­ty will select its final pledged del­e­gates at the 2020 State Con­ven­tion in Taco­ma. These del­e­gates will join those elect­ed at the con­gres­sion­al lev­el plus the state’s auto­mat­ic del­e­gates at the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion in July 2020.

The exact process, includ­ing all the steps and the dates asso­ci­at­ed with those steps, will be deter­mined by the Del­e­gate Selec­tion and Affir­ma­tive Action Plan (DSAAP). The state par­ty must write a draft DSAAP and sub­mit it to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee’s Rules and Bylaws Com­mit­tee for approval by mid­way through next spring. Should the DNC approve this plan, it will then become effective.

As David McDon­ald has stat­ed, the DNC is encour­ag­ing states to make use of pres­i­den­tial pri­maries for 2020, but only if the par­ty’s require­ments are met.

We urge the Leg­is­la­ture and Gov­er­nor Inslee to act quick­ly in 2019 to approve a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry reform bill that makes the pri­ma­ry usable by both major par­ties. This will enable peo­ple who sim­ply want to influ­ence the par­ties’ pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing process to cast a vote with­out hav­ing to show up at a caucus.

Those who wish to run for del­e­gate and par­tic­i­pate in par­ty­build­ing activ­i­ties — at least on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic side — will still be able to exer­cise that freedom.

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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