Don’t want to declare a party to vote in Tuesday’s primary? A senator has your back

As thousands of Washingtonians register their displeasure over being required to declare a party preference in the state’s presidential primary on May 10, a state lawmaker is taking action.

Washington Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, introduced SB 6697 on March 3 to eliminate the requirement that voters declare if they are Democrats or Republicans to participate in the presidential primary.

The presidential primary is the only election where Washington voters are required to indicate a party preference. Three is no such requirement to participate in the Aug. 4 regular primary or the Nov. 3 general election.

An estimated 36,000 voters statewide, including many in Benton and Franklin counties, have returned ballots without marking their party preference on the outside, apparently in protest

Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, drew attention to the issue when she announced she would not vote in the primary for that reason. 

Unless corrected, those ballots won’t be counted.

“We have a duty to protect the sanctity of a secret ballot by keeping the outside of the mailing envelope free of any hint about the vote inside. It’s not the mail carrier’s, or anyone else’s, business if the ballot inside might support a Republican or Democrat candidate. Voters have a right to be concerned about Washington’s current primary,” O’Ban said.

His bill, unlikely to gain traction before the 2020 session adjourns next week, would retain the opportunity to declare a party affiliation but would not require it. It would also require an additional envelope to shield the declaration while the ballot is in transit to elections offices. 

Party declarations are public information for 60 days and are routinely collected by the parties as well as others. 

For the 2020 presidential primary, ballots must be returned or postmarked – with signatures – by election day in order to count. Those who leave the party affiliation box unmarked can be contacted to sign their ballots before the election is certified.

Locally, about 21 percent of registered voters in both Benton and Franklin counties have turned in ballots.

Voters may register in person at their county auditor’s office until 8 p.m. on Election Day. The deadline to register online or by mail has passed. Visit sos.wa.gov/elections/auditors/ for information.

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