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Editorial: Your presidential primary ballots are in the mail

But if you’re voting for a Democrat, you might want to wait before marking your choice.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Ballots for Washington state’s presidential primary are in the mail and should arrive soon in voters’ mailboxes.

But, for a change, it might be best to procrastinate a bit before filling out and submitting your ballot, at least if you’re voting for a Democrat.

Both the ballot and the state’s voters guide for the March 10 primary list 13 candidates for the Democratic nomination and one for the Republican ticket, that being President Trump. But because of printing deadlines for the Washington primary ballot, five Democratic candidates have since dropped out or suspended their candidacies: Sen. Michael Bennett of Colorado, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

While Washington state moved up its presidential primary by several weeks to March 10, it still falls after Nevada’s caucuses this Saturday; South Carolina’s primary on Feb. 29; and Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states have scheduled their primaries. Depending on the outcome of those contests one or more of the remaining eight candidates might also drop from the race.

Still in the running as of Wednesday are former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, entrepreneur Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

As the state Democratic Party will use the results of the primary to allocate delegates to their national convention in July, votes for a candidate who is no longer running won’t be used in that math.

Washington state is among recent states where both parties have made the transition from a caucus system to a primary to determine allocation of party convention delegates, a decision that seems fortunate following Iowa’s debacle earlier this month, in which Iowa’s Democrats relied on an untested smartphone app to collect and report caucus results, delaying the outcome.

But Washington primary isn’t without some considerations for its voters, many of whom have a history of preferring not to align with only one party of the other in primary elections. It’s that reluctance to declare as either Democrat or Republican that resulted in the “top two” primaries for local, state and national races, meaning that all candidates appear on the ballot and the two candidates receiving the most votes — regardless of party — move on to the general election.

However, voters won’t be able to maintain that independence — or anonymity — if they wish to vote in the presidential primary. Along with marking their choice on the ballots, voters also will have to choose between one or two boxes on the ballot envelope, one declaring a preference for the Democratic Party, the other that declares the voter as a Republican.

While the ballot remains secret, there’s no getting around that declaration, Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell said this week.

The presidential primary is a hybrid of public and party purposes. It uses the state’s election system to gather and tally votes for each candidate, but it’s each party’s role to decide how those results will be used in allocating the delegates who will nominate the party’s candidate.

For their part, Fell said, county elections workers won’t even open a ballot envelope unless one of the two boxes is checked and the envelope is signed. The office will make an effort to contact the voter to correct the omission, but for a vote to count, a party preference must be declared and a signature included. Voters also must choose a candidate who corresponds to the party for which they have declared. Voters in the Democratic primary have another option to choose an “uncommitted” delegate, meaning they prefer not to chose among the candidates. Voters also can write in candidates on either ballot, but still must declare a party.

Another consideration for some voters: Each voter’s party declaration is a matter of public record and will be shared with the selected state party.

The same declaration is not required for Washington state’s Aug. 4 primary or the Nov. 3 general election for all other local, state and Congressional elections.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman told a gathering of newspaper editors and publishers last week that she is expecting about 50 percent turnout for the presidential primary.

Those voting for President Trump have it simple; he’s the only candidate listed on that party’s ballot. But for Democratic voters to be certain their choice figures in the delegate math, they may want to wait until after March 3 to vote.

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