Politics & Government

State Democrats decide to use results of presidential primary instead of caucuses

Democratic Party caucus participants listen to Max DeJarnatt (holding his son, Orson, left) of Olympia during the caucus at Madison Elementary School in Olympia in 2016.
Democratic Party caucus participants listen to Max DeJarnatt (holding his son, Orson, left) of Olympia during the caucus at Madison Elementary School in Olympia in 2016. Olympian file photo

The Washington state Democratic Party announced Sunday it will use the state’s 2020 presidential primary to allocate delegates to candidates instead of the precinct caucuses it has used in the past.

The state party’s central committee voted 121-40 to start using a hybrid system that uses the state’s vote-by-mail system for a presidential primary to apportion delegates to candidates, and caucuses and conventions to select which delegates will represent the state at the national convention in Milwaukee.

“Democrats in Washington are ready for the big show in 2020,” party chairwoman Tina Podlodowski said in a written statement. “We look forward to more Presidential candidate attention and visits, increasing voter and activist engagement, and lifting up Democrats at all levels on the 2020 ballot.”

Nearly 13,000 members of the public weighed in over the past month on which system they preferred, with more than 93 percent supporting the hybrid primary system, according to a news release issued by the party.

Washington has both a presidential primary and a caucus system. Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee, who is among a growing group of Democratic presidential contenders, signed a measure moving the presidential primary from May to the second Tuesday in March.

In 2016, Republicans used the May primary to allocate delegates while Democrats ignored the primary results and opted for the precinct caucuses to divvy up delegates.

About 230,000 Democrats turned out to caucus across the state in March 2016, while 1.4 million cast a ballot in the May presidential primary. Of that 1.4 million, more than 802,000 ballots were cast by Democrats, even though their vote didn’t count.

President Donald Trump won the state primary that year but was the only remaining Republican candidate at the time. Hillary Clinton won the state Democratic primary but lost the party caucuses held earlier in the year.

State Republicans have said they will continue to use the primary to allocate delegates in 2020.

Washington state has no party registration but since 2008, the primary requires voters to attest to being either Republican or Democrat. That gives the state parties important information for their voter lists.

Residents’ party choices are public record, while their votes remain private. That practice will continue.

Both national parties have rules that only voters who identify with a party may participate in the primary to allocate delegates to the RNC and DNC national nominating conventions. State Democrats now send the hybrid plan to the DNC for final approval.

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