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Washington State Senate approves bill to create a usable presidential primary in 2020

A thoughtfully crafted bill that would make it possible for both of Washington State’s major political parties to use a presidential primary to allocate their national convention delegates in 2020 if they so choose has cleared the State Senate.

ESB 5273, prime sponsored by Senator Sam Hunt (D-22nd District: Olympia) easily passed by a vote of twenty-nine to eighteen this morning.

The bill would do the following:

  • Move the default date of Washington’s presidential primary from the fourth Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March (as in current statute, the date remains administratively changeable if the parties want to move it);
  • Put the major parties in charge of determining which names appear on their respective presidential primary ballots, instead of the Secretary of State;
  • Require that the arrangement and form of the presidential primary ballots be established in consultation with the major parties;
  • Allow a major party to request an “Uncommitted” option on their ballot.

All these changes will result in a presidential primary that complies with the national rules established by the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

“A new presidential primary system would allow for greater voter participation, expanding Washingtonians’ access to democracy,” Senator Hunt said in a statement following the vote. “It will provide Washington voters with an easy and effective way to participate in the nomination of the next president.”

Prior to final passage, the Senate defeated an amendment sponsored by Republican Senator Hans Zeiger that would have ruined the bill, making the primary unusable by the Washington State Democratic Party. Zeiger’s amendment would have required the creation of a third, meaningless, “straw poll” ballot for voters not wishing to affiliate with either of the two political parties.

Although the presidential primary is several decades old, it has never been used by both major parties before. The Washington State Republicans have historically used the primary to allocate at least some of their national delegates, and in recent cycles, they’ve used it to allocate all of their national delegates. The Democratic Party has repeatedly chosen not to use the primary in favor of caucuses. That has prompted the Legislature to cancel the election… once in 2004 and again in 2012.

The Democratic Party is now considering whether to use a presidential primary to allocate its 2020 national convention delegates. If it does, it will still hold caucuses to select who goes to the convention on behalf of its candidates, as well as to adopt platforms and resolutions. However, voters who only wish to express a presidential preference would be able to do simply by participating in the primary.

The Washington State Democratic Central Committee (WSDCC), of which I am a voting member, will make a final decision in April.

Assuming ESB 5273 is adopted by the House and signed by Governor, Inslee in the next few weeks, the WSDCC will have a real choice between a primary-caucus hybrid Delegate Selection Plan and a caucus-only Delegate Selection Plan.

The WSDCC’s choice is of more interest than the Washington State Republican Party’s choice for 2020 because the Republican Party is expected to continue its fervent embrace of Donald Trump, who is a candidate for another term. The Democratic field of presidential candidates is already crowded, with no definitive front runner, and is getting more crowded every week.

The roll call on ESB 5273 was as follows:

Roll Call
ESB 5273
Presidential primary
3rd Reading & Final Passage
1/30/2019

Yeas: 29; Nays: 18; Excused: 1

Voting Yea: Senators Billig, Carlyle, Cleveland, Conway, Darneille, Das, Dhingra, Fortunato, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hobbs, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Liias, McCoy, Mullet, Nguyen, Palumbo, Pedersen, Randall, Rolfes, Saldaña, Salomon, Takko, Van De Wege, Wellman, Wilson (Claire), Zeiger

Voting Nay: Senators Bailey, Becker, Braun, Brown, Ericksen, Hawkins, Holy, Honeyford, King, O’Ban, Padden, Rivers, Schoesler, Sheldon, Short, Wagoner, Walsh, Warnick

Excused: Senator Wilson (Lynda)

NPI congratulates the Senate on the passage of this important, needed bill.

Two Republicans voted with all the Democrats in favor of the bill: Phil Fortunato (R-31st District) and Hans Zeiger (R-25th District). We thank them for their aye votes. It is disappointing that more Republicans did not vote yes.

We urge the House of Representatives to take it up and adopt it with no amendments so that it can land on Governor Inslee’s desk for his signature.


One Comment

  1. Kenneth Burch
    Posted January 30th, 2019 at 3:21 PM | Permalink

    OK, primaries are better than caucuses on small-d democratic grounds, but Bernie would have won a “usable” primary anyway.

    The only reason Hillary won the non-binding primary Kim Wyman forced into being was that Bernie’s campaign didn’t in any campaign in it – since there were no delegates at stake, there was no point in the Sanders campaign wasting time and money when numerous primaries and caucuses in several other states, in which delegates were actually at stake, were occurring at the same time.

    A primary should be put in place because it’s a better means of allocating convention delegates — NOT as part of some pointless effort to de-legitimize Bernie’s strong showing in the 2016 campaign. And it needs to be accepted by one and all that it would have made no difference in the outcome in November if Hillary had faced less primary opposition or been nominated by acclamation…. the problems in her campaign were totally unrelated to anything Bernie and his supporters ever said or did.

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