Eventually, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman might begin to feel like Sisyphus, constantly pushing a boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down.
Yet, Wyman remains resolute in her effort to make the state’s presidential primary more relevant, and now she might have a little help. Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson has announced a parallel attempt to move his state’s primary forward on the calendar, echoing Wyman’s persistent work.
“I really would love to see a regional primary,” Wyman told The Columbian. “If our two states could go on the same day, that would be one more wonderful aspect.”
The goal is a worthy one. As last year’s vote demonstrated, having the presidential primary in May leaves Washington on the outside looking in when it comes to the nominating process. By the time the May 24 primary rolled around, Donald Trump had wrapped up the Republican nomination, with John Kasich and Ted Cruz dropping out of the race days before Washington voters turned in their ballots.
Moving the primary to early March, when nominations are still up for grab, would give the state the influence it deserves in the presidential race. As the 13th most populous state — and with a population greater than the combined total of nearby Oregon, Idaho, and Montana — Washington should be a significant player in determining which candidates advance to the November election.
Of course, Wyman has made this argument before. She has pressed lawmakers to move up the date of Washington’s primary in the past several legislative sessions, and now she is traveling the state to reiterate the need for such a change before again making a pitch next year in Olympia.
There are other issues involved in Washington’s presidential primary, among them the fact that Democrats apportion delegates based upon caucuses instead of the primary. About 750,000 voters participated in the Democratic primary — roughly three times the number that took part in caucuses — demonstrating the absurdity of the party’s insistence upon clinging to an archaic method for choosing delegates. Republicans selected delegates based upon primary results, embracing the notion of democracy.
Washington also has a problem in that voters must mark their party preference in order to vote in the presidential primary. For a state in which citizens do not register by party — essentially, everybody is an independent — this is anathema. “The complaint we heard is, ‘I don’t want people to know what party I voted for,’ ” Wyman said.
Still, the biggest issue is the need to move the date of the primary and for candidates to see Washington as an important landmark on the road to the nomination. As Richardson, Oregon’s top elections official, said last week, “Oregonians should have a meaningful opportunity to pick their president.” Wyman has been making that argument for years, and she welcomes Oregon’s proposal. Last week, California lawmakers voted to move that state’s primary to March — the bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown — hopefully turning the duet into a chorus.
Creating simultaneous primaries in early March would provide the West Coast with influence similar to that wielded by Southern states in the Super Tuesday primaries. It would make this region a must-visit stop on candidates’ calendars and give voice to issues that are unique to this part of the country.
Moving the date will be up to the Legislature. But Wyman remains undaunted, determined to keep pushing that boulder up the hill.