The New Washington Primary Frequently Asked Questions
Why is our primary changing?
The blanket primary system that had been used for 70 years in this state was challenged in the United States Federal Court by the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties. As a result of the lawsuits filed by the parties the courts ruled that the blanket primary is unconstitutional. Following this ruling the Legislature crafted a new primary law creating a primary system where the top two vote getters advanced to the general election. The new law also had the "Montana primary" as a back up should the courts rule the "Top Two" system unconstitutional. The Governor vetoed the "Top Two" primary system in the bill in favor of the Montana style "Open Primary/Private choice."
What will my ballot look like?
The law authorizes County Auditors to use one of two types of ballots, either a consolidated ballot or a physically separate ballot. Six counties (King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Chelan and Klickitat) are using a consolidated ballot. All other counties are using separate ballots.
What is a consolidated ballot?
A consolidated ballot is a single ballot on which voters may pick a party preference (Democratic, Republican or Libertarian) and all of the partisan races are presented in individual sections for each party. Nonpartisan races and ballot measures are listed after all of the partisan races. All voters may vote on the nonpartisan races and issues even if they do not pick a party and vote on the partisan section of the ballot.
What is a separate ballot?
Physically separate ballots will consist of a separate ballot for each party (Democratic, Republican or Libertarian) that contains all partisan races as well as all of the nonpartisan races and issues. A separate nonpartisan ballot will also be provided to voters. Voters will be asked to select one of the partisan ballots, or the nonpartisan ballot if they do not wish to vote on a partisan ballot.
If my county is using physically separate ballots, how many ballots will I receive?
In counties using separate ballots, each voter will receive three ballots: Democratic, Republican and Nonpartisan. Nonpartisan races also appear on the Democratic and Republican ballots. The voter may pick only one party ballot. Thus, if the voter picks a Democratic ballot, the voter may vote for Democratic candidates for partisan office and also vote for nonpartisan candidates on that same ballot. If a voter elects to not choose a party ballot, the voter may select and vote the nonpartisan races.
How can I find out what type of ballot I will use and what will it look like?
The Secretary of State will post an interactive map at vote.wa.gov so voters may determine the ballot style to be used in the voter's county, either consolidated or physically separate. Voters will also be able to see pictures of what these ballots will look like. King, Kitsap, Snohomish, Pierce, Chelan and Klickitat Counties are using a consolidated ballot. All other counties are using separate ballots.
If my county is using separate ballots, what happens if I pick and vote a partisan ballot and also vote on the nonpartisan ballot?
In a county using separate ballots, if the voter picks a partisan ballot and votes for nonpartisan candidates on that ballot, any votes cast separately on the nonpartisan ballot will not count. The voter must pick and vote only one ballot.
How many major parties exist in Washington?
Washington currently recognizes two major parties. These parties are the Democratic and Republican. These parties qualified for major party status by receiving a designated percentage of votes in past elections.
Will minor parties appear on the primary ballot?
No. Under Washington's new law, minor parties proceed directly to the general election and do not appear on the primary ballot.
How do minor parties qualify for the general election?
Washington's new primary law requires that minor parties must hold a political convention and gather a requisite number of signatures to qualify candidates for the general election ballot.
Will I have to pick a party in the General Election?
No. The General Election will remain the same as in the past and voters will be able to vote for any candidate regardless of party.
Is the new primary constitutional?
Washington's new primary has not been constitutionally challenged so we do not know for sure if the courts will uphold this primary. We do know, however, that 48 other states use a primary system that limits voters to voting for only one party's candidates and many states use similar "open primary/private choice" systems that have been upheld by the courts.
If I do not want to vote for a party can I still vote for ballot measures?
Yes. Voters who do not wish to select a party on a consolidated ballot or vote one of the separate party ballots may vote for all nonpartisan offices, such as Superintendent of Public Instruction and judges, as well as all ballot measures.
If I pick a party will I automatically become a member of that party?
No. If a voter chooses to pick a party on a consolidated ballot or vote one of the partisan ballots (Democratic, Republican or Libertarian) that voter's party affiliation is only for that primary election and does not bind the voter to that party in future elections.
If I pick a party will a record be made of my choice?
No. Making any record of what type of ballot a voter selects is specifically prohibited by the new primary law. If a voter makes a party selection for the primary, that selection may not be recorded or kept in any form by any person.
Will my votes count if I do not pick a party on a consolidated ballot but still vote a straight party ticket?
No. The law specifically provides that the voter must pick a party on a consolidated ballot. If the voter does not pick a party but still votes a straight party ticket, none of the votes will count.
Will my votes count if I pick a party on a consolidated ballot but vote for candidates of multiple parties?
If the voter picks a party on a consolidated ballot, only the votes cast for candidates of that party will count. Votes cast for candidates of a different political party will not count.
What if I vote for candidates of more than one party using separate ballots?
For separate ballots, the voter may only choose and vote one ballot. If the voter attempts to vote for partisan candidates on more than one ballot, none of the votes cast for any partisan candidates will count. Voting on more than one ballot in the separate ballot format has the same legal effect as not picking a party on the consolidated ballot.
What does partisan mean?
Partisan means that the candidate filing for the office is asked to identify a party affiliation. That party affiliation could be a major party like Republican, Democratic, or Libertarian, or a minor party like the Green Party or the Social Workers Party.
What does nonpartisan mean?
Nonpartisan means no political party is associated with the office or issue on the ballot. For example, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and all judicial offices are nonpartisan offices. Many local offices including port commission, fire commission, school board, and city council are nonpartisan offices. Candidates who run for a nonpartisan office do not file with a party affiliation. Likewise ballot measures, such as school levies and bonds, are not associated with the Democratic, Republican or Libertarian parties.
Will my vote still count if I skip races?
Yes, voters may still choose not to vote in a race on either consolidated or separate ballots and the remaining votes cast will still count.
Do I have to register with a party to get a ballot?
No. Our primary system does not change the way voters register to vote. Washington's registration laws do not require a voter to register by party.
Does the new primary change elections for Precinct Committee Officer?
Yes. Prior to the new primary this year Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) were elected in the General Election in November. The new primary law changes the election of PCOs to the primary. Now PCOs are elected at the same time nominations for all partisan offices occur.
Who do I contact with concerns about the new primary system?
If you would like to discuss changes to the new primary, you should contact your state legislators through the legislative information center at 1.800.562.6000 or you can get contact information for legislators on the web at www.leg.wa.gov.