Party Politics

Voting in Washington’s 2024 presidential primary: Your questions answered

This week, elec­tions offi­cials in Wash­ing­ton’s thir­ty-nine coun­ties will mail out bal­lots for the 2024 Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­maries. Vot­ers who would like to par­tic­i­pate in the nom­i­nat­ing process for either par­ty must cast their bal­lot and return it no lat­er than March 12th, 2024, the vot­ing deadline.

The pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry is a spe­cial event in state pol­i­tics that only takes place once every four years. Because it’s the sub­ject of qua­dren­ni­al con­fu­sion, we’ve pre­pared a Q&A to help to demys­ti­fy it. We hope this infor­ma­tion is help­ful to reg­u­lar and new read­ers alike. If you have a ques­tion the dis­cus­sion below does­n’t answer, please feel free to leave a com­ment and we’ll respond.

Q&A: The 2024 Washington State presidential primary

Q: What is the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry? Why do we have it?

A: The pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry is a way for Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to express a pref­er­ence for a can­di­date seek­ing the nom­i­na­tion of one the nation’s two major polit­i­cal par­ties. Although the state clas­si­fies it as a “spe­cial cir­cum­stances elec­tion,” it is actu­al­ly not an elec­tion at all, but rather a nom­i­nat­ing event.

When you vote in the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, you are express­ing a pref­er­ence as to which can­di­date you want Wash­ing­ton’s share of nation­al con­ven­tion del­e­gates allo­cat­ed to at either the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion or the Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion. We have the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry because cast­ing a bal­lot through the state’s elec­tions infra­struc­ture is the eas­i­est way for lots of peo­ple to express a pref­er­ence. Both par­ties have pledged to use the results of this year’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry to allo­cate their del­e­gates, so the results will be binding.

Q: Does this year’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry real­ly matter? 

A: Since the results are bind­ing, as men­tioned in the pri­or answer, it does mat­ter, although at this junc­ture, nei­ther par­ty’s nom­i­na­tion looks par­tic­u­lar­ly con­test­ed. Joe Biden has no strong oppo­si­tion for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion and Don­ald Trump has just a sin­gle rival left — Nik­ki Haley — who has­n’t per­formed very well in ear­ly states. Biden and Trump seem like­ly to win Wash­ing­ton’s primary.

Q: What will the bal­lot look like? Who will be on it?

A: The bal­lot will have two columns: a Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­umn, with a blue head­ing, and a Repub­li­can col­umn, with a red heading.

The fol­low­ing choic­es will appear on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic side:

  • Joseph R Biden Jr
  • Dean Phillips
  • Mar­i­anne Williamson
  • Uncom­mit­ted Delegates
  • ___________________

The fol­low­ing choic­es will appear on the Repub­li­can side:

  • Chris Christie
  • Ron DeSan­tis
  • Nik­ki Haley
  • Vivek Ramaswamy
  • Don­ald J. Trump
  • ___________________

The final choice is a line where you can write in a candidate.

To vote, sim­ply fill in the oval for one of the choic­es and then place the bal­lot in the secu­ri­ty enve­lope. Place the secu­ri­ty enve­lope into the return enve­lope, sign it, date it, and mark the box indi­cat­ing that you under­stand you are affil­i­at­ing with the par­ty whose nom­i­nat­ing process you wish to par­tic­i­pate in, then return your bal­lot to a drop box or post office. (To ensure deliv­ery, NPI rec­om­mends against putting your bal­lot in a mail recep­ta­cle that isn’t at a post office.)

Q: Who decid­ed which names would appear on the ballot?

A: The major polit­i­cal par­ties did. Each par­ty has a process that spells out what a can­di­date must do to qual­i­fy for its col­umn on the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry bal­lot.  State law gives them the par­ties this respon­si­bil­i­ty, rec­og­niz­ing that it is their First Amend­ment right to deter­mine who their can­di­dates should be. The Sec­re­tary of State sim­ply uti­lizes the list of names that the par­ties provide.

Q: Why is there an option called “Uncom­mit­ted Del­e­gates” on only one side of the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry ballot?

A: Under the rules of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, “uncom­mit­ted” is a legit­i­mate pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence. This is the option you should fill out if you are not sure or unde­cid­ed, but you want to par­tic­i­pate in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s process. It’s sort of like the “not sure” option in a pub­lic opin­ion research sur­vey, but in this con­text, it could count for some­thing. If enough Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers feel sim­i­lar­ly, there will be uncom­mit­ted del­e­gates at the 2024 DNC from Wash­ing­ton State.

Q: It looks like the bal­lot con­tains names of can­di­dates who have dropped out. Why weren’t those can­di­dates’ names removed?

A: That’s cor­rect. As of press time, Mar­i­anne Williamson, Chris Christie, Ron DeSan­tis, and Vivek Ramaswamy had sus­pend­ed their pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns. But you can still vote for them because they sub­mit­ted the req­ui­site paper­work, sig­na­tures, and fees to qual­i­fy for Wash­ing­ton’s pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry. State law does not allow sub­mit­ted names to be removed once they are submitted.

While you can vote for a can­di­date who is no longer run­ning an active cam­paign, can­di­dates who have dropped out often don’t attract enough sup­port from oth­er vot­ers to earn any nation­al con­ven­tion del­e­gates. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, for instance, has a min­i­mum via­bil­i­ty thresh­old of 15%. If a can­di­date can­not meet that with­in a giv­en state, they won’t get any of that state’s delegates.

Q: Why am I only allowed to vote for one can­di­date from one party?

A: The major polit­i­cal par­ties’ rules require that vot­ers not par­tic­i­pate in anoth­er par­ty’s nom­i­nat­ing process. Fur­ther­more, nei­ther par­ty uses a vot­ing method like ranked choice vot­ing or approval vot­ing that would allow you to express a pref­er­ence for more than one can­di­date. Accord­ing­ly, you can only vote one par­ty’s bal­lot — your bal­lot will be invalid if you fill out an oval in both columns.

Q: If I vote in the pri­ma­ry, will the par­ty I affil­i­at­ed with get my name?

A: Yes. If you vote in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty will get your name. And if you vote in the Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry, the Repub­li­can Par­ty will get your name. The par­ty whose pri­ma­ry you did­n’t vote in will also be able to fig­ure out that you vot­ed in the oppos­ing par­ty’s pri­ma­ry. Please note that the dis­clo­sure of the list of vot­ed in the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry to the polit­i­cal par­ties is express­ly autho­rized by state law. This is in keep­ing with the idea that how you vote is a secret, but whether or not you vot­ed is a mat­ter of pub­lic record.

Q: I don’t want to affil­i­ate with either par­ty. What should I do?

A: If you are a true inde­pen­dent who does­n’t want to affil­i­ate with either par­ty, you should recy­cle your pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry bal­lot rather than return­ing it. You are under no legal or moral oblig­a­tion to par­tic­i­pate. As men­tioned above, the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry is not an elec­tion. You are not vot­ing to allo­cate Wash­ing­ton’s Elec­toral Col­lege votes if you par­tic­i­pate in the pri­ma­ry — rather, you are vot­ing to allo­cate one of the major par­ties’ nation­al con­ven­tion delegates.

Q: Now that the par­ties are using the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry to allo­cate del­e­gates, are cau­cus­es and state con­ven­tions a thing of the past?

A: No. The par­ties use the pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry to allo­cate their del­e­gates, but they still hold cau­cus­es and con­ven­tions for oth­er pur­pos­es, like adopt­ing plat­forms and res­o­lu­tions, hear­ing from can­di­dates, and fundraising.

And while the pri­ma­ry elim­i­nates the need to stand in a gym, liv­ing room, or school cafe­te­ria for hours just to express a pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence, Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who are inter­est­ed in going to a nation­al con­ven­tion need to engage with the par­ty of their choice to par­tic­i­pate in del­e­gate selec­tion. The rules for the elec­tion of del­e­gates and the time­frames for run­ning dif­fer by party.

  • Repub­li­cans: To file as a Repub­li­can can­di­date for del­e­gate to the 2024 RNC in Mil­wau­kee (July 15th — 18th), you have to pay a mon­e­tary fee and file by April 12th. The form to do so is here.
  • Democ­rats: To file as a Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date for del­e­gate to the 2024 DNC in Chica­go (August 19th — 22nd), you must declare by May 12th for the con­gres­sion­al dis­trict lev­el and June 2nd for the state lev­el. There is no fee. Del­e­gate fil­ing has not yet begun, but you may preg­is­ter and let the par­ty know of your inter­est using this form.

Repub­li­cans will hold their state con­ven­tion in April, in Spokane; Democ­rats will hold their state con­ven­tion in June, at a loca­tion to be announced.

Have a question we didn’t answer above?

Please leave a com­ment and we’ll respond! Hap­py voting.

Andrew Villeneuve

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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