If you haven’t accepted yet that businessman and television personality Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, you’re in luck: Neither has Washington’s primary election ballot.
Former presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Ben Carson remain on the ballot for the May 24 presidential primary. Voters who identify themselves as Republicans on the ballot envelope can vote for any of those candidates, even if their preferred candidate recently (or not so recently, in the case of Ben Carson) dropped out of the race.
Ballots were mailed last week, and should arrive in mail boxes by Monday or Tuesday.
What election officials don’t want you to do: Write in other candidates, or declare yourself a member of an alternate party.
Please don’t use the ballots as a method of protest.
Julie Anderson, Pierce County Auditor
Why not? Because your write-in vote won’t count in the presidential race. And saying “no” to the Republican and Democratic party establishment by drawing a new check box for the “National Party of Free Thinking” or the “99 Percenters” also could prevent your vote from being counted.
“My main message is, if this presidential preference primary is upsetting to you, or you’re upset you don’t feel your vote will count, please don’t use the ballots as a method of protest,” said Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson.
“It would be ineffective, and you’re sending the message to the wrong people.”
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Republicans are using the May 24 primary to allocate the state’s 44 delegates to the Republican National Convention, when the party’s nominee will be formally chosen. Even though all candidates but Trump have dropped out of the Republican race, the primary still needs to take place to ensure Washington’s delegates are allocated, said Susan Hutchison, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party.
Washington’s Democrats, meanwhile, aren’t using the results of the primary election to award delegates to presidential candidates. They are instead using the results of precinct caucuses that took place March 26.
Democrats can still vote in the primary, choosing between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, but their vote won’t be used to help determine the party’s presidential nominee.
WHY THE ELECTION’S STILL ON
State law requires both parties to be placed on the primary election ballot, regardless of whether they are using the results. Additionally, ballots are printed far in advance, allowing military voters to receive them 45 days before the election.
That means ballots were already printed before Cruz and Kasich dropped out of the Republican race last week.
Plus, the Legislature would have needed to cancel the primary, and that didn’t happen before the Legislature adjourned in March.
While the state budgeted $11.5 million for the primary, most of that money has already been spent. So even if it were possible to cancel the primary now, it wouldn’t save taxpayers very much, elections officials said.
CHOOSING A PARTY
Both major parties require voters to declare a party affiliation to participate in the primary. If you don’t check one of the boxes identifying yourself as a Republican or a Democrat, you will be sent a follow-up form requesting that you pick a party, which you must return for your vote to count.
I know that’s confusing for independents. But by declaring their independence, it means not being involved in selecting a party nominee.
Susan Hutchison, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party
If you check the boxes for both parties, your ballot won’t be counted.
“I know that’s confusing for independents,” said Hutchison, the state Republican Party chairman. “But by declaring their independence, it means not being involved in selecting a party nominee.”
Each primary election packet sent to voters includes a combined Republican and Democratic ballot, but voters should only fill out only the part for their chosen party, said Anderson, the Pierce County auditor. If voters fill out the section for a different party than they declare on their envelope, or fill out the sections for both parties, their ballot will be thrown out.
Voters’ party choice will be included in voter registration records, which are public, for 60 days. After the primary, election officials relay that information to both major political parties; those lists can be publicly requested for about two years after the primary.
But don’t worry, you won’t be registered as a Republican or a Democrat for all eternity — just this once, said Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall. You can go back to choosing a mixed bag of candidates the next time you vote, if that’s what you’d like to do.
“It’s simply making a choice for this election,” Hall said. “It doesn’t go any further.”
THE PROBLEM WITH WRITE-INS
Writing in a candidate who isn’t on the ballot won’t bolster his or her chances of suddenly winning the nomination, but it will create a lot of work for election workers, Anderson said.
Even though write-in candidates won’t be counted in the party nominating processes, Washington law requires them to be tallied anyway, as they would be in a local or state election.
“Normally I don’t like to tell voters what to do, because a write-in vote is an essential part of our election process. But not in this election, because it’s a nominating process, not a direct election,” Anderson said.
Unfortunately, she said, “that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to process the write-ins.”
We get more of what we call ‘love notes’ on ballots in this type of an election, when they basically tell you how they feel about it. And it slows down the process.
Mary Hall, Thurston County auditor
Election workers already are going to be working extra for the primary to sort ballots by party and help resolve errors in party declarations, Anderson said.
Processing additional write-in candidates — or sorting through unsolicited comments about the state of politics in the United States — will only complicate matters, Anderson and Hall said.
“We get more of what we call ‘love notes’ on ballots in this type of an election, when they basically tell you how they feel about it. And it slows down the process,” Hall said.
“I would really discourage people from doing that. If they want to put a message, put it on a separate piece of paper — not on the ballot.”
A PREFERABLE KIND OF PROTEST
Go ahead — vote for candidates who are no longer in the race, Anderson said.
That won’t complicate the lives of election workers, and lets you send a message to Democratic and Republican party officials about who you’d prefer to see in office, she said.
“That’s great,” Anderson said.
“We want people to participate, even if their candidate has dropped out. If their candidate has dropped out and they want to send a signal to the party, please do it.”
Ballots must be mailed and postmarked by May 24 to be counted, or dropped off at a county drop box by 8 p.m. that day.
Just like in any other election, voters also must sign and date the outside of the envelope that contains their ballot for it to be counted in the all-mail election.