Wednesday, July 8, 2020
July 8, 2020

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Jayne: Primary poses political peril

By , Columbian Opinion Editor
Published:

I still haven’t decided. With ballots due in two days for Washington’s presidential primary, I still haven’t decided. Oh, not just about whom to vote for, but whether to vote at all.

I’m guessing many of you are facing the same dilemma. Because in Washington, where our fierce independence is reflected by the fact that we don’t register for one political party or another, the presidential primary demands fealty.

If you wish to vote in the Democratic Party primary, you have to check a box that says, “I declare that my party preference is the Democratic Party and I will not participate in the nomination process of any other political party for the 2020 Presidential election.” On the Republican side, the box says, “I declare that I am a Republican and I have not participated and will not participate in the 2020 precinct caucus or convention system of any other party.”

Obviously, there is a need to ensure that voters do not cast ballots in both parties’ primaries. This isn’t, after all, Chicago — where the mantra long has been, “Vote early, vote often.” But more than a few people are uneasy about having their name and their party preference on the ballot envelope — and then having that preference be a matter of public record for 60 days.

The person you vote for remains a secret. But that can be a bit problematic for Republicans, where Donald Trump is the only candidate on the primary ballot. If you declare that you are a Republican, it means you voted for Trump in the primary or wrote in the name of a longshot. Which I would respect, considering that I wrote in my dad’s name the first time I voted in a presidential election. For the Democratic primary, 13 names appear, although most of those candidates have dropped out of the race since the ballots were printed.

This declaration of party preference arrives at the behest of the parties, who can use the avowal to compile mailing lists and conduct voter outreach.

In normal times, this isn’t really a big deal. You vote for your preferred candidate in the primary and then wait to see who winds up with the nominations and then you vote in the general election.

But these are not normal times. Political tension is at an unprecedented level, increasing the uneasiness of declaring a party preference and allowing anybody with a computer to look up which way you are leaning.

The tension is so high, in fact, that Secretary of State Kim Wyman has said she will not vote in the primary. This is particularly interesting because Wyman — who is a Republican — is Washington’s top election official and pushed for a law that moved the presidential primary from May to March in order to give the state a more influential spot on the calendar.

“People (will get) very angry about this election,” Wyman said in a television interview. “They are offended they have to (declare) their political party to the public and they don’t want it to be on public record, so they have this tough choice to make.”

For Wyman, that choice is to break her personal streak of voting in every election. And, considering that she is a thoughtful, reasonable and effective public servant, it’s hard to disagree with that decision. When politics are part of your job, choosing a side these days has its pitfalls.

Which brings us to the awkward position of a newspaper columnist. After 30 years in journalism, there is a particular sensitivity to claims of collective media bias. And as a member of The Columbian’s Editorial Board, there is a particular duty to consider all sides of an issue or an election rather than declaring a predisposition.

Those things suggest it might be best to sit out the primary. But as a columnist, there is a need to have thoughtful opinions and explain them to readers — and a need to defend those opinions by voting.

So, here goes: I won’t vote for Donald Trump in November. Pretending otherwise would be disingenuous, as anybody who reads this column should know.

As for the primary? Well, it’s probably time to decide how to vote. And then whether to vote at all.

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