Wednesday, March 23, 2016
By Evan Smith
If you vote in the presidential primary May 24 your party choice will be a matter of public record. That’s not true for caucuses.
The state’s major political parties will get lists of who voted in their primaries. The lists will be available electronically, but not posted, for 60 days after the election at the state elections office. Counties will keep the ballot envelopes that show party preference for 22 months after the June 10 certification of the election, as required by federal law. The records will be available for inspection and copying during that period and then be destroyed.
Public declaration of party allegiance, common in most states, is new to Washington.
Secretary of State’s office spokesman Dave Ammons said Monday, “We have never had registration by party in this state. The presidential primary is the only occasion when voters are required to declare a party, and then it’s a one-time thing that doesn’t bind a voter for future elections. The ballot choice does not stay a permanent part of the voter’s registration.
“The political parties have a First Amendment association right to limit who takes part in their intra-party nominating process for President. Our regular state primary is not a nominating election, but a winnowing of all candidates down to two finalists per office, without reference to party preference of candidate or voter.”
There will be no public record of participation in the party precinct caucuses, either the Democratic caucuses Saturday, March 26, which will help determine how Washington votes at the Democratic national presidential nominating convention this summer, or the Republican caucuses in February that selected who will represent each part of the state at state and national conventions but will not determine which presidential candidates they will support.
The parties, however, do keep records of who participates in their caucuses and are free to compare those records with records of who participates in their primary or the other party's primary.
Washington Republicans will choose presidential candidates by results of the May 24 presidential primary. Democrats will use results of the March 26 caucuses, which lead to legislative district caucuses, county conventions and the congressional district and state conventions.
Evan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org