Forced to choose party, many skip presidential primary

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Monday, May 16, 2016 7:17pm
  • Local News

EVERETT — As hundreds of thousands of voters cast ballots in the May 24 presidential primary, many are sitting it out because they will not declare allegiance to the Democratic or Republican parties in order to participate.

Moreover they dislike that a list with their name and choice of political affiliation will be given to each party by the state and maintained as a public record long after results are known.

Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel is one such voter.

“It is because of the party declaration that I chose not to participate in this election,” she said. “My office is nonpartisan. I’ve maintained that nonpartisanship for years.”

Some voters sent back their ballots with objections penned on the outside envelope. Others got creative, drew in a box for ‘Independent’ and marked it.

“People are sharing their thoughts about this aspect of the election,” Weikel said.

In the county and around the state, tens of thousands of ballots are coming back without the voter checking the box next to the Democratic or Republican oaths putting those ballots in danger of not being counted either.

Concerns are reaching the Secretary of State’s Office as well.

Unlike other states, voters in Washington are not required to register with a party or pick a party in an election — except for the presidential primary, where the requirement is etched into state law.

“We’ve taken a fair share of phone calls from voters,” said Lori Augino, the state’s director of elections. “We certainly understand there is some confusion and frustration on the part of voters. It’s different from what voters in Washington are used to doing.”

Washington will spend roughly $11.5 million in taxpayer dollars to conduct the primary, the results of which will have little or no effect on who is chosen by the Democratic and Republican parties to be their presidential nominees.

The state Democratic Party will essentially ignore the results because it relies on its caucus process to allot delegates to presidential candidates.

The state Republican Party will use the vote tally to allocate its 44 delegates. But with Donald Trump as the party’s presumptive nominee, the outcome won’t matter much.

But both parties will gain a valuable list from the secretary of state once the election results are certified June 10. It will contain the name of every person who voted and the party they chose.

Anyone can obtain that information through a public record’s request to the Secretary of State’s Office for 22 months. Federal law requires records of elections with federal races be retained for that length of time, Augino said.

In addition, each county maintains information of its voters for 60 days following certification. Then that data gets scrubbed.

There will be a lot of names on the list given the volume of ballots flowing in for the May 24 election.

Statewide, 619,341 ballots had been returned as of Monday morning, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That’s 15.1 percent of Washington’s 4.1 million registered voters.

“I’m pleased,” Augino said. “It shows me that people are participating.”

In Snohomish County, 65,426 ballots had been returned by mid-morning Monday, of which 36,262 were Democratic ballots and 25,129 were Republican.

Most of the other 4,035 ballots came back without any party oath chosen. In these cases county election staff will contact the voter and invite them to “cure” their ballot by picking one or it won’t be tallied, Weikel said.

On a few ballots, both of the party declarations were marked. Those will not be counted and the voter will not be contacted, Weikel said.

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

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