Washington SoS To Sit Out Presidential Primary Due to Partisan Disclosure Concerns

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Washington’s Secretary of State will forgo voting in her state’s upcoming March 10 primary because of her concerns about the requirement for voters to publicly pick a party. The Seattle Times has more:

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman says she won’t vote in the state’s March 10 presidential primary because of ballots requiring partisan declarations.

The state’s top elections official says her office has been getting bombarded with complaints about the lack of options for voters who want to participate in the primary — but don’t want to publicly affiliate with either the Republican or Democratic parties.

“Our phones are lighting up. Every four years it’s exactly the same,” she said in an interview Monday.

Although Wyman says she’s not urging others to abstain from voting, she sympathizes with people who are reluctant to participate, for personal or professional reasons, because of the primary rules.

Unlike other elections in Washington, the presidential primary requires voters to sign a declaration stating they consider themselves Republicans or Democrats for the purpose of the election. That information is given to the parties and is held by elections officials for 60 days. It is considered public information and can be obtained by other groups.

Wyman is skipping the primary so as not to to be seen tacitly endorsing any candidate:

As a Republican elected official, Wyman’s partisan status has long been known. But she has avoided endorsing President Donald Trump or any other presidential candidates, saying she wants to preserve her neutrality as an election administrator.

She has voted in past presidential primaries, which also included partisan declarations, but she says this year is different because Trump is the only candidate on the Republican ballot. (In 2016 there were four Republicans on the ballot.)

The problem has been addressed in the past with an unaffiliated ballot, but lawmakers (at the behest of the parties) have declined to allow that option this year:

In some past years, the state offered an “unaffiliated” ballot, allowing voters to pick candidates from any party in the presidential primary, without disclosing a party preference. In 2000, more than 500,000 voters chose the unaffiliated option, even though the parties didn’t count those results in their nominating contests. The Legislature removed the unaffiliated option that year.

Bills backed by Wyman to restore an unaffiliated primary ballot have repeatedly failed, most recently in 2019.

Wyman says she doesn’t want to break up her perfect streak of voting (a streak verified by state records). But she doesn’t feel right about signing the party declaration — and she said she wishes the Legislature would reconsider providing an unaffiliated ballot. She said she may try to send in a ballot anyway without signing the partisan declaration, knowing it won’t count.

“It’s a protest vote at this point,” she said.

Wyman’s stance is more prominent than most, but echoes concerns elsewhere across the country, including Minnesota, about requirements that voters choose a party and have it publicly disclosed. It’s the flip side of the frustration many voters feel in states with closed primaries when they are denied the opportunity to cast a primary vote without registering with a party. Unfortunately, those decisions are controlled by legislatures and are outside the control of election officials – even though those officials often taken the brunt of voters’ displeasure. It will be interesting to see if Wyman’s action triggers any change in the Evergreen State going forward. Stay tuned …

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