Voting the Presidential Primary

The fifth in a series of articles about elections in Washington State by San Juan County Auditor F. Milene Henley.

Ballots for Washington’s May 24 Presidential Primary will arrive in your mailbox soon.

The Presidential Primary is different from every other Washington election. Its purpose is not to elect the next President, but rather, to tell the two major parties who you would like them to select as their candidates. The nominees selected by the two big parties – as well as the candidates selected by other parties – will then appear on the November general election ballot.

So why aren’t other parties, such as Green and Libertarian, on the primary ballot? In order to be included in the Presidential Primary, a party’s nominees must have received at least 5% of the vote cast in the last Presidential election. Only the Democratic and Republican parties qualify.

Because this election is about the parties, voters are required to declare a party affiliation in order to vote. Each party drafted its own declaration language. Both party declarations will be included on the ballot return envelope, in addition to the standard ballot declaration. In order for your ballot to be counted, you are required to mark the box for one or the other party.

(And yes, your party preference is a matter of public record for 22 months following certification of the Presidential Primary. And the parties do seek and use that information.)

There are a lot of ways to mess up in this election. As in any election, you might forget to sign your envelope. As usual, we’ll do our best to chase you down and get your signature. Or you might fail to mark a party box. In that case, we will also try to contact you, giving you the opportunity to correct the issue by choosing a party, signing the form and returning it to the Elections office prior to certification of the election. On the other hand, if you mark both party boxes, you are out of luck. By law, if you mark both boxes and sign your envelope, your submission is complete but incorrect. In that case, your ballot will be rejected, with no opportunity for a “cure.”

What if you don’t like the party’s declaration and want to amend it, just slightly? If you make any changes to the language of the party declaration that you select, you will receive the same notice as if you had not checked a party declaration at all and have the chance to correct the problem prior to certification. If not corrected, your envelope will never be opened and your vote will not count.

And then there’s the ballot itself. Candidates of both parties will appear on a single ballot. But, unlike other elections, you may vote for only one candidate on the entire ballot. Most importantly, the candidate you select must be of the same party as the party whose declaration you agree to on the envelope. If you vote for two candidates, your ballot will be rejected and your vote will not count. If you choose a party declaration on the envelope but mark your ballot for a candidate of the opposite party, your ballot will be rejected and your vote will not count.

But how will we know if you vote for a Democrat but sign the declaration as a Republican? After all, don’t we separate the ballots from the envelopes before we ever open the ballots, in order to ensure voter secrecy?

The first step in processing all Presidential Primary ballots will be to separate the envelopes by party. “Batches” of ballots will contain only envelopes with Democratic declarations, or only envelopes with Republican designations. If a Republican-voted ballot shows up in a Democratic batch, that ballot will be sent to the Canvassing Board and will not be counted. (We’ll check first to make sure an errant Republican declaration didn’t get mixed in with the envelopes from that Democratic batch.) Bottom line, though it’s one of the shortest ballots you’ll see, the Presidential Primary is different from all other Washington elections. So take your time, read the instructions, call us for help if you have questions, and return your ballot as early as possible. We want your vote to count!