Presidential primary offers a choice

There is no perfect way to give Washington voters a meaningful say in nominating Republican and Democratic candidates for president next year. Traditionally both major parties have allocated some if not all delegates to conventions via precinct caucuses, which are neighborhood meetings of party supporters.

We agree with Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s goal of holding a presidential primary election early next March, letting a broader swath of voters weigh in. It would be a resumption of the presidential primary held during all but two presidential-election cycles since 1992. A primary is a more inclusive approach than precinct caucuses, which often become private affairs with low attendance.

In a nutshell, Wyman is suggesting the state spend $11.5 million to defray the counties’ costs for the special primary election. This may be a hard sell in the 2015 legislative environment, but it can be overcome if both parties make clear they’ll use the results to allocate delegates.

Unfortunately, to win Republican and Democratic parties’ support for her proposal, Wyman is offering a kind of exclusivity to the parties. In other words, voters would have to sign an oath of “party preference” on the ballot, and a list of those affiliations would then be given to the parties to use for voter outreach and fundraising.

Wyman, a Republican, would exclude the option for voters to cast a ballot as “unaffiliated,” which had been done in some previous primaries such as in 2000.

“My goal is to secure a voice for our Washington voters with a plan that assures a meaningful election where the results are used to allocate at least a part of the national convention delegates from our state,” Wyman said in announcing her plan.

While we understand Wyman wanting parties to use the results for selection of delegates as much as possible to allocate delegates, this is also about letting the state’s non-aligned voters speak their minds — even if unaffiliated ballots are not counted or used by the parties.

We wish the Democratic and Republican parties would agree to abide strictly by the results of the popular vote and ditch the caucuses. Traditionally both major parties have selected at least some delegates by precinct caucuses, which are neighborhood (precinct) meetings where like-minded residents gather to select their favorite nominees.

So far state Republicans have agreed to use at least half of the primary results to allocate delegates to candidates; Democrats are thinking about their options.

Jaxon Ravens, the state Democratic chairman, says his party would insist that voters select a party if it were to use the election to pick its delegates. He said there is more interest within his party to explore the presidential primary option this time around and that using a hybrid option, like the GOP, would be hard to get approval for at the Democratic National Committee.

Ravens’ party is under a tight schedule to work out its options, which are getting complicated because Ravens needs to tell the DNC the state’s intention by May 1 — and there’s a very real possibility the Legislature won’t have a budget by then. State Democrats meet April 17-18 in the Tri-Cities to sort it out.

We’d like to see Democrats embrace the primary — and both parties to embrace options for non-aligned voters.