Editorial: Reforms needed to state’s presidential primary, other elections

By The Herald Editorial Board

Yes, we’re only months removed from the presidential election and nearly four years away from the next — although some might already be daydreaming of 2020 — but it’s still a good time to consider reforms to our state election laws.

The state’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican who won election to her second term in November, has proposed a raft of reforms for the Legislature to consider this session.

For a third straight year, Wyman is seeking legislation that would move up the date of the state’s presidential primary so that state voters have a greater opportunity to help determine the parties’ nominees. Senate Bill 5333 and its House version HB 1469 would move the presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March, several weeks earlier than its current date on the fourth Tuesday in May.

Had that change been in place last year, Republican voters would have had three more options for the May 9 primary. As it was, Donald Trump was the last Republican candidate standing as of the primary. John Kasich and Ted Cruz withdrew just days before the primary and Marco Rubio quit in mid-March.

The bill would allow for some flexibility on the March date so that Washington could potentially schedule a regional primary with other western states.

In previous attempts Wyman has attempted to get the Democratic and Republican parties to agree to tie at least some of their allocation of convention delegates to the results of the primary to make it more than a beauty contest. She was partially successful last year, with the Republicans using the primary to allocate delegates, but the Democrats balked, preferring to use the precinct caucuses for that purpose.

Wyman’s dropping that provision, but wants to see other changes to the presidential primary, most notably one that would restore the voice of voters who don’t care to publicly affiliate themselves with one party of the other. Wyman has proposed adding an unaffiliated ballot that would allow voters to chose any candidate but would not affiliate them with a party and would tabulate those votes separately from the votes of those identifying with a party.

Wyman, during a recent meeting with The Herald Editorial Board, said she heard from many voters who chose not to participate in the primary because they didn’t want to be affiliated with or have their name shared with either party. Voter’s choices for president aren’t made public, of course, but the party declarations are a public record.

Another reform Wyman is seeking would apply to all elections, allowing 17-year-olds to register as future voters, submitting their information online, by mail or in person, which would be kept in a “pending” file but would become active on their 18th birthday.

Another would set a standard deadline for voter registration of 11 days before an election, cleaning up the difference that allows online and mail registration up to 29 days before an election but eight days before for in-person registration.

And with more voters using ballot drop boxes during elections, Wyman wants vandalism and tampering of drop boxes to be charged as malicious mischief, a class B felony. Wyman said she knew of no reports of vandalism or other problems with drop boxes, but wants to see additional protection for ballots.

The reforms sought, particularly in moving up the date of the presidential primary and creating an unaffiliated ballot, seek to encourage greater voter interest and participation. Wyman’s proposal for an unaffiliated ballot is likely to be met with opposition from stalwarts in each party, but it would restore an option that state voters haven’t seen since the end of the blanket primary, favored by many voters who enjoyed the independence and the ability to keep their party preferences to themselves.

Those issues won’t return until the 2020 presidential campaign is upon us, but there’s no reason to delay the reforms.

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