Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Democrats Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren have dropped out of contention for their party’s presidential nomination. — MD
Local voters join others throughout the state by expressing concerns over the requirement to declare themselves as Democrats or Republicans in the ongoing presidential primary election, which ends March 10.
“We have numerous calls each day,” Interim Election Manager Damon Townsend for Clallam County said last week.
Townsend said Clallam County has about 500 challenged ballots. Some lack signatures. About half lack a voter’s preference for the Democratic or Republican parties.
That selection is displayed on the outside of the ballot envelope with the voters’ signature.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman said via press release Tuesday that voters are not required to sign a party declaration to participate in the August primary and November general election. However, for your vote to count in the March 10 election, you must sign a party declaration on your ballot envelope.
As of the last tabulation on Feb. 28, Clallam County had received 11,741 ballots out of the 54,251 issued for a voter turnout of 21.64 percent.
This is the first time in 75 years that Washington state Democratic voters will participate in a state-run presidential primary to allocate national convention delegates. Both major political parties are allocating delegates through the primaries. Caucuses will choose who will be delegates.
President Donald Trump is the sole primary election choice for declared Republicans.
Thirteen candidates are on the Democrat ballot, although 10 — Michael Bennet, Michael Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang — have dropped out since the ballots were printed in January. Votes for them still will be counted and delegates will be awarded to them. National delegates will be able to switch their votes after the first ballot.
Remaining on the Democrat ballot are Joe Biden, Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders.
Wyman said that people who already voted cannot change their vote if their candidate dropped out, but they can check their ballot’s status on VoteWa.gov. If you have filled out your ballot but haven’t yet turned it in, you can print a replacement at the website or from the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. 4th St.
Election officials said the party declaration is necessary because even though the two parties are on the same ballot, the primary is like two separate elections. People must decide which primary they want to participate in and cannot participate in both parties’ primaries.
The reason that the declaration is on the envelope instead of the ballot is to help with ballot processing. They are first sorted by party declaration before they are prepared for the count on Election Day.
The party preferences and who made them is made available to the public and intended for use by Republican and Democratic party organizations for campaign purposes.
However, anyone can obtain the list of names and party selections for 60 days after the primary before they are expunged from county records.
The state Secretary of State’s Office makes those records publicly available for 22 months, Townsend said.
“There’s nothing private about the party check-box,” he said. “That’s a matter of public record.”
The public pays for the elections, but the state Supreme Court has ruled that political parties, as independent associations, have the right of free association, “so they can require who is allowed to participate in their process,” Townsend said.
Townsend said every election worker has been background-checked and takes an oath ensuring the integrity of the process.
Many voters have said asking for their party preference in such a public manner is too personal a query.
“They feel this is something that should be private,” Townsend said.
“I always explain that Washington state is a minority in the nation, that with most other states, you have to register by party and you’re only provided a ballot for the party you registered for.”
Some voters want more options to choose from than two parties.
Under state law, there are no options for independents — voters must declare a preference for one of the nation’s two major parties for their ballot to be valid.
Wyman’s communication director Kylee Zabel wrote that the Secretary of State “has advocated for several years for the state Legislature to reinstate an ‘unaffiliated’ option for voters, allowing voters who do not wish to declare a party to still participate in the primary” but the option has not moved forward with decision-makers.
Liz Bumgarner of Sequim, chairwoman of Clallam County Democrats, said the ballot information should be given primarily to political parties and not be made available to the general public.
She, too, suggested voters worried about privacy use drop boxes but defended the process.
“We have a two-party primary system in this country, and the parties, if they didn’t know who was Republican and Democrat, would have to go and contact everyone, and it would be a ridiculous job,” Bumgarner said.
“It’s pretty hard anyway.”
She said that party members are forbidden to use the lists for anything other than canvassing or telephoning members of the party.
“We give it to only special members of the party who bring the list back,” Bumgarner said. “They don’t leave the building with it. It is concerning because perhaps it would be used by groups or people that are not so ethical about the use of it.”
Voters have through 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 10 to drop their ballots off at the courthouse or local drop boxes, such as in Carlsborg, 261461 U.S. Highway 101 (near Sunny Farms) and in Sequim, 651 W. Washington St. (by JCPenney). With questions, visit www.clallam.net/elections or call 360-417-2217 or email elections @co.clallam.wa.us.
Sequim Gazette reporter Matthew Nash contributed to this report.