As Washington’s chief elections officer, I frequently hear impassioned pleas for maximum voter participation and expanding citizen engagement in their government.
I couldn’t agree more. Your State Elections Division and the 39 counties of Washington are busy promoting turnout for the 2015 elections and already making outreach plans for next year’s exciting 2016 presidential/gubernatorial year.
One other big way we can engage our state’s four million voters is by making maximum use of our 2016 presidential primary. I am proposing moving the date from the too-late-to-matter default date of May 24 forward to a date at the front end of the primary season, March 8.
I’m happy our Legislature provided for a 2016 Presidential Primary in this difficult budget year. Unfortunately, lawmakers didn’t approve our reform bill to move the date early enough to give voters a real voice. Happily, state law provides that this date change can still be done by a bipartisan committee of party leaders.
We also had wanted the Legislature to require both parties to use the primary results to allocate at least part of their national convention delegates. Republicans have always used a combination of primary and caucuses; Democrats remain committed to the caucuses.
The primary vs. caucus discussion will continue in the years ahead, but for 2016, to my way of thinking it’s still a great thing to provide the voters an opportunity to be heard on the highest office in the land. Voters will be expecting a ballot during the primary season, and they deserve a voice.
Caucuses certainly have their place and their passionate supporters, and I’ve never advocated getting rid of them. But I’m all for engaging the broadest possible share of the electorate, as I’ve heard both parties say so often. The math is pretty compelling: Primaries typically have 10 times the turnout of caucuses, which are held on one day, a day that might not work for many voters. Caucuses simply leave too many people behind.
With the Primary, you get a ballot delivered to your home and nearly three weeks to fill it out in private, at your convenience.
At this point, the challenge is to move the Presidential Primary date forward and promote a big turnout. That benefits the parties by attracting their candidates to this Washington to learn our issues. Having a president who knows our issues is a benefit to all of us.
And, again, it benefits the voter by broadening the number of people who feel consulted. We shouldn’t suppress any voice.
On Aug. 11, I’m convening a date-setting meeting of Democratic and Republican party leaders. I remain optimistic that we can reach across the aisle and agree on this important piece of voter access and empowerment.
Republican Kim Wyman is the 15th Washington Secretary of State and has spent most of her adult career in election administration.