Monday, June 1, 2020
June 1, 2020

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Jayne: Party declaration issue resonates

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A couple weeks ago, seemingly a lifetime in the age of COVID-19, I wrote a column about Washington’s presidential primary.

The point was that Washington’s primary requires voters to mark a box on the outside of the ballot envelope declaring allegiance to either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, and many people have a problem with this. Because of the requirement, I wasn’t sure how I was going to vote or whether to vote at all.

Judging from the response to the column, this issue resonates with readers. In this state, as you know, we are not required to register as a Republican or a Democrat or an independent or a druid, if we would be so inclined, so marking a box declaring a party preference is a bit of anathema to us.

“Dead-on echo of my own thoughts and sentiments,” one reader wrote. “Thank you for addressing this whole irritatingly messy business.”

Another complained about the political parties controlling the presidential primary and requiring the declaration as a method for suppressing the vote. “So be ‘fiercely independent,’ ” they wrote. “Check the box and VOTE.” Which, of course, is never a bad idea.

And another pointed out: “There is a middle way between voting and not voting in this case: The ballot provides for a vote for ‘uncommitted delegates’ to the convention, which obviates the necessity of voting for a specific candidate. You might have mentioned this, at least in passing.” Judging from what was a long and thoughtful email, this reader understands the process better than I do, so we’ll take his word for it. In fact, the note was so insightful that I should probably publish his email and pretend that I wrote it. But that would be plagiarism.

There were more responses, as well. Many more.

And then there was retired Columbian Editor Lou Brancaccio, who has made a mantra of “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” and wrote: “I actually decided to send my ballot in but created my own DDSS Party. And since it was a spur-of-the-moment decision I was the one who had to head the ticket. So I drew a little rectangle box and filled it in with my name next to it. Received a note from Greg Kimsey (form letter) that told me something went terribly wrong and my vote didn’t count. Well, I counted it!”

In that, Lou and I have something in common. No, I didn’t vote for the Don’t Do Stupid Stuff Party, although that is good advice for both parties these days.

But after filling out my ballot and choosing to not check a box, I also received a letter from Kimsey, the Clark County auditor who oversees elections in these parts. The interesting thing is that the letter included a form for declaring a party preference, and I had until March 19 — nine days after the primary — to fill it out and have my ballot counted.

I opted to not do that, which probably is a childish response. My apologies to Kimsey and his staff for the extra work and to taxpayers who pay the postage for the auditor to send out those letters. But, like many people, having my party preference be public record for 60 days is discomforting.

After all, it’s not really a preference; I will vote for members of both parties come the August primary and the November general election. Contrary to the accusations of some readers, I am not a lifelong Democrat; I’ve never been a registered Democrat, but I have been a registered Republican when I lived in another state.

All of this points out the widespread frustration over how two major parties dominate our democracy. Most of the Founding Fathers were fearful of political parties, which they called factions, and George Washington’s farewell address included: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

Which probably should inspire efforts to eliminate the party declaration from the state’s presidential primary. And for the party officials who insist upon that declaration, well, Don’t Do Stupid Stuff.

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