Effort to move 2016 state primary falters

SEATAC — An attempt by Republicans to move up the date of next year’s presidential primary fizzled Tuesday when Democratic Party leaders refused to go along.

Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman asked a panel of party leaders to conduct the vote in early March rather than late May to boost Washington’s clout in the national nominating process but only the GOP representatives supported her.

As a result, the primary will be held May 24, one of the last on the political calendar.

“I am very, very disappointed,” Wyman said after the meeting of the bipartisan Presidential Primary Committee empowered to set the date of the election. “By the end of May almost 80 percent of the (nation’s) population will have already cast their ballot. I’m not sure the voters will think it’s a meaningful vote.”

Tuesday’s setback should come as no surprise.

The state Democratic Party decided months ago to ignore the primary results and allocate its 103 presidential delegates at its March 26 caucuses. Their leaders argued Tuesday for doing away with the statewide vote and spending the $11.5 million it will cost to put on elsewhere.

“We want a process that is meaningful for the voters and the primary is not that,” party Chairman Jaxon Ravens said.

And state Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, worried Democratic voters could be confused by a March primary and wrongfully believe “they are choosing delegates and they are not.”

The Republican Party, meanwhile, will use the primary results to apportion half its delegates and caucuses for the other half. With a large field of candidates, their leaders said the March 8 date proposed by Wyman could lure many hopefuls to Washington to campaign.

“That is where we believe it is most advantageous for the voters of Washington state,” GOP Chairwoman Susan Hutchison said of the earlier date. “Republicans in this state want to vote and want to vote at a time when candidates will come to earn their vote.”

State law slates the primary for the fourth Tuesday in May which falls on May 24, 2016. By then, Wyman said, 45 states will have acted. March 8 would put it one week after Super Tuesday, when primaries and caucuses are planned in 12 states, and be among the earliest in the campaign.

She needed to convince six of nine members of the Presidential Primary Committee, a panel comprised of four representatives each from the Democratic and Republican parties and the legislative caucuses in the House and Senate. Wyman, a Republican, is chairwoman.

Attempts to move the date to March 8 and then March 22 failed on 5-4 party line votes.

Tuesday’s stalemate marked the latest skirmish in the somewhat difficult history of the state’s presidential primary.

A 1989 citizen initiative prompted its creation and Washington held its first primary in 1992. Since then there have been three more while two were canceled — in 2004 and 2012 — for financial reasons.

This year, Gov. Jay Inslee signaled his desire to cancel the 2016 vote when he didn’t provide funding for one in his initial budget proposal.

Wyman, meanwhile, wanted to permanently change the date and require both parties to use the results to apportion some of their delegates. That proposal failed.

Until Tuesday, Wyman said she was inclined to see the primary canceled if she could not get the date moved to March.

“My position changed in the meeting,” she said. “I think people will want to participate in the primary.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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