On May 6, voters statewide were mailed unfamiliar, colorful envelopes and ballots, which require an allegiance to either the Democratic or Republican Party.
Voters who cherish Washington State's open election culture are irritated. (Who moved my cheese?)
Washington election law, however, has not changed.
In an actual election, any voter – regardless of his or her party preference – can vote for any candidate on the ballot. Washington voters don't declare party affiliation.
However, the oddball May 24 presidential primary is neither an election nor a primary. Rather, it's a step in the nominating process for the two major political parties in anticipation of their national conventions. The parties are private associations and can choose to use the results or not.
Nearly 25 years ago, our state Legislature enshrined this process in law. Along the way, the law has been tweaked, including the removal of “unaffiliated” voters from the process.
But take heart. Whether you vote or not in the May presidential primary, your choice has no effect on how you'll vote in future Washington state elections. You'll find your cheese right where you left it.
County election officials have no discretion in this nominating process, nor in the requirement or wording of the party declarations.
Although this primary is carried out by public servants using public funds, the nominating process belongs to the two political parties and is intended only for the party faithful. Neither party wants cross-party or independent voters involved in their private nomination process.
We're told that declarations on the outer envelope are preferred by the political parties because it helps to keep the participants honest.
But an envelope is just a fig leaf and doesn't keep your party declaration private. Sixty days after this election's certification, state law requires election officials to deliver voter registration details (including party declaration) to the two political parties. This is why I'm fond of calling this election “the $11.5 million mailing list.”
Some voters have called about their signatures being displayed along with their addresses. There is concern about identity theft.
Over the past five years, election administrators across the state have gradually eliminated the costly, wasteful “privacy flap.” Today, all Washington state voters' signatures, addresses and party choice appear on the outer envelope.
According to detectives who specialize in identity theft, a signature and address on the outer envelope doesn't create additional risk. Thieves aren't looking for signatures to forge. The real money is in bank account numbers, credit cards, and documents with sensitive information such as a mother's maiden name, social security number, etc. Election materials contain none of these things.
Voters who are extremely sensitive have options. They can bypass the Postal Service and use one of Pierce County's 30 drop boxes. Or they can cast their vote on an electronic voting machine on Election Day, at one of our voting centers.
Washington won't see another presidential primary again for four years, at least. (It was canceled in 2012.) Now that you know more about it, you can make an informed decision about whether you want to participate. If you can't abide selecting a political party, or you don't want your political persuasions revealed, this may not be the election for you. Sit it out.
And Washington's streamlined envelope design, which is here to stay, doesn't make you a target for crime. It has, however, saved many hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and increased the speed of ballot processing.
Thank you for being vigilant, active voters!
Julie Anderson is Pierce County’s elected auditor. The auditor's office is responsible for elections, licensing services, a variety of public records and animal control services.