Parties hurt state’s status in selection of president

  • By Evan Smith Enterprise forum editor
  • Thursday, January 24, 2008 11:59am

Washington’s Feb. 19 presidential primary comes at a time when it could be important in determining the Republican or Democratic nominee or even both.

If the Feb. 5 contests in 20 states, including California and New York, don’t produce a definite nominee in either or both parties, the Washington primary could be pivotal. Even party caucuses Feb. 9 could be important.

A key role for Washington is not far-fetched. The Republicans seem to have a different winner in every state, and the Democrats don’t seem to be settling on a winner. If that continues through the Feb. 5 “super-Tuesday” events, several campaigns could bring their advertising money and get-out-the-vote efforts to Washington.

You’d think the state party organizations would want that. But they’re discouraging it. How? Two ways:

They’ve made the process confusing. The Republicans will choose half their delegates in the primary and half at precinct caucuses 10 days earlier. The primary will include a Democratic ballot, but it will mean nothing because state Democrats will choose all their delegates at the Feb. 9 caucuses.

So, if you really want to help decide the Republican nominee, you’ll have to go to a Saturday morning caucus Feb. 9 to help pick half the state’s delegates, and then cast a ballot by Feb. 19 to help pick the rest.

If you want to influence the Democratic ballot, you’ll have to go to a caucus. You can also cast a ballot, but it won’t even be an advisory vote because it will come 10 days after the actual delegate selection.

Voters must swear an oath of party allegiance. I railed a few weeks ago against the fact that the parties would get a list of who voted in which primary. I now see that it keeps me from voting in both a Democratic caucus and the Republican primary. I wouldn’t be allowed to have a say in both contests if they were at the same time; I shouldn’t under the current convoluted system.

I could accept a simple, “By casting this ballot I agree not to participate in a nominating process of any other political party,” but look at what we’ll have:

Either, “I declare that I consider myself to be a Democrat and I will not participate in the nomination process of any other political party for the 2008 presidential election.”

Or, “I declare that I am a member of the Republican Party and I have not participated and will not participate in the 2008 precinct caucus or convention system of any other party.”

That’s enough to alienate lots of Washington voters.

Evan Smith is the Enterprise Forum editor. Send comments to

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