Republicans will choose candidate in May primary
By Marcy Stamper
Attendance at the Republican Party caucuses on Saturday (Feb. 20) was sparse, probably because the party is using the May primary to select its presidential nominee, according to Kit Arbuckle, the Okanogan County party chair. The Twisp-Winthrop Republican caucus drew 15 attendees.
The main focus of the caucuses was to gather input for the party platform and appoint delegates for the county’s March 19 convention, he said.
Party officials expect to spend the next few weeks going through suggestions for the platform, so proposals will not be available until the county’s March 19 convention, said Arbuckle.
The state Republican and Democratic parties are using different approaches to choosing their presidential nominees this year. While the Republicans opted to use the May 24 primary, the Democrats are choosing their nominee through their caucus on March 26. The Democrats will also discuss proposals for their party platform at their caucus.
Washington allows parties to use the caucus, the primary or both to choose delegates who will select their nominee, according to the Secretary of State. Voters can participate in both the caucus and primary, as long as it is on behalf of the same party.
Voice in nominating?
One of the main differences between a primary election and a caucus is who conducts it, according to the Secretary of State. Primaries are conducting by state governments, while caucuses are run by state parties. Decisions about whether to rely on the caucus or the primary are made by the Republican and Democratic parties themselves.
Last August, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, proposed moving the state’s primary to March 8, but the idea was rejected by the presidential primary committee, composed of party leaders, legislators and Wyman. All five Republicans on the committee supported rescheduling the primary, but the four Democrats rejected it. State law requires two-thirds of the members to support a date change.
Democrats said the primary holds no weight because they rely on caucuses to select a candidate. “One of the main reason we are using caucuses is so neighbors can meet together to discuss the big issues facing our nation,” the state Democratic Party says.
Most state primaries and caucuses will have been held by the May 24 primary. After a handful of contests, the Republican field has been narrowed dramatically to five candidates from an initial 17. The Democratic contest has two candidates after four withdrew.
Washington’s presidential primary was created through a voter initiative in 1989 with a default date of the fourth Tuesday in May. It has been used four times and drawn roughly 10 times as many voters as caucuses, according to the Secretary of State.
It was canceled by the Legislature in 2012 because of cost, according to Brian Zylstra, deputy communications director for the Secretary of State. In 2008, the Republicans used votes from their caucuses and the primary, half and half, to choose their nominee. Democrats have always used the caucuses, said Zylstra.
All registered voters will receive primary ballots in the mail. Anyone wishing to vote must make a party declaration on the ballot return envelope, a rule that applies only to presidential primaries.
The initial list of candidates for the presidential primary will be issued by the Secretary of State this Wednesday (Feb. 24). Parties and individuals can petition to add other names with a minimum of 1,000 signatures of registered voters affiliated with the appropriate party. The final candidate list will be certified on March 19.
People unable to attend the Democratic caucus because of religious observance, military service, disability, illness or work can participate by appointing a surrogate. Information is available on the Democratic party website at www.wa-democrats.org.