Senate votes to move the Washington presidential primary to early March

By Jim Camden

The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA — Washington voters could have more choices and a bigger impact on the 2020 presidential process, whittling down the crowded field in early March rather than voting in late May when the races are all but over.

The Senate voted Monday to move the date of the state presidential primary up, and allow those who don’t want to state a party preference to mark a ballot which would be tabulated, even though political parties wouldn’t have to use those results.

The state’s presidential primary has had limited effect on the nominating process. Republicans have used the results to select some or all of their delegates in different years and Democrats have clung to the caucus system. The law sets the date as the fourth Tuesday in May although it has sometimes been moved up to join other states in the region.

“Both parties need to use a presidential primary and it should be moved up,” Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, said.

The bill passed 34-15, despite objections from some Democrats the Legislature should wait for a more comprehensive bill to reschedule the entire primary system. But before bill came up for a vote, the parties clashed on whether the state should allow new voters to register on the day of the primary, something that some states allow for all elections but Washington does not.

Miloscia said the system isn’t ready to handle same-day registration and there’s no reason to make the presidential primary different from all other elections.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said elections officials would have four years to prepare, and any argument that the volume of registrations would be too big to handle doesn’t make sense.

“We can’t do it because too many people would want it? That seems like a reason we should do it,” Billig said.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said same-day registration isn’t needed because Washington residents can already register by mail, in person, on line and when they get or renew a driver’s license: “We have no lack of options to register to vote.”

Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, said his previous gubernatorial campaign was warned by the ballot security experts that worked for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani that same-day voter registration can result in massive voter fraud, with political parties loading up buses and driving people around to multiple polling stations to register and vote repeatedly.

But Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said that doesn’t make sense because New York doesn’t even have same-day voter registration. Rossi replied that the team worked for Giuliani but may have been talking about another state.

“The one concern you should have is voter fraud,” he said.

The amendement to allow same-day voter registration for the presidential primary was defeated on a voice vote. The bill now goes to the House.