OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, who is among a growing group of Democratic presidential contenders, signed a measure Thursday moving the state’s presidential primary from May to March.
Next year’s primary will now be held on the second Tuesday in March, something Inslee said will strengthen the state’s role in the national democratic process.
The measure cleared the Legislature days after Inslee announced his presidential campaign. He was set to leave later Thursday for another multi-state trip, starting with a climate rally Friday with students in New York City and three events Saturday in New Hampshire.
Washington has a presidential primary and a caucus system. In 2016, Republicans used the May primary to allocate delegates while Democrats ignored the primary results and opted for the caucus system to divvy up delegates.
President Donald Trump won the state primary that year but was the only remaining Republican candidate at the time. Hillary Clinton won the state Democratic primary but lost the party caucuses held earlier in the year.
Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the GOP will continue to use the primary to allocate delegates.
State Democrats are expected to make a decision in early April on which method they’ll use to allocate delegates in 2020. They have asked the public to weigh in before April 4, with a decision expected April 7.
Washington state has no party registration but since 2008, the primary requires voters to attest to being either Republican or Democrat. That gives the state parties important information for their voter lists.
Residents’ party choices are public record, while their votes remain private. That practice will continue. Floor amendments to allow for voters to choose an unaffiliated ballot failed in both the Senate and House.
The state last allowed an unaffiliated ballot for the presidential primary in 2000, and nearly 40 percent of voters drew that instead of choosing a party, according to Erich Ebel with the secretary of state’s office.
The unaffiliated option was removed when the pick-a-party primary was adopted by the Legislature in 2007.
Both national parties have rules that only voters who identify with a party may participate in the primary to allocate delegates to the RNC and DNC national nominating conventions.
Earlier in the week, a group of independent voters sent Inslee a letter urging him to veto the presidential primary bill because of the requirement that voters must align with a political party in order to cast a vote.
“This is unacceptable,” read the letter, signed by seven voters in the state affiliated with IndependentVoting.org. “Since the presidential primaries are taxpayer-funded elections, all voters, regardless of affiliation, should be allowed to participate.”
Inslee said that his goal in signing the bill was to increase voter participation.
“It’s the only way that I could see really moving forward to have their votes count in presidential primaries and be consistent with the rules of the road that the parties have put up,” he said.