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Washington presidential primary ballots sent. Here’s who’s on them

By Jim Brunner, The Seattle Times
Published: February 23, 2024, 10:30am

If you’re a Washington voter, you should get a ballot in the mail any day now for the March 12 presidential primary.

Open it up, and take a look. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll notice something strange: Most of the listed candidates have already dropped out of the presidential race.

What’s the deal here?

Under state law, the Washington primary roster had to be finalized by early January, in part so that ballots could be printed in time to mail to military and other eligible overseas voters.

So the zombie-campaign candidates remain on the ballot and could still technically accrue delegates to the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer, where the parties’ presidential nominees will officially be chosen.

On the Republican side, the Washington ballot includes former President Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and former U.N. ambassador who is the last rival remaining on Trump’s path to the 2024 GOP nomination.

But there’s also former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who ended his campaign Jan. 10, just before the Iowa caucuses. And biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy dropped out Jan. 15. Rounding out the list is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who quit the race Jan. 21 after a failed $160 million campaign.

For Democrats, the ballot features President Joe Biden, who, despite low approval numbers in polling, faces little opposition for the Democratic Party nomination.

The state’s Democratic primary ballot also includes Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, who is still running a longshot challenge to Biden. Also on the ballot is Marianne Williamson, the self-help author who suspended her campaign Feb. 7. The Democratic ballot also includes an “uncommitted” option.

Ballots must be postmarked by March 12 or deposited in drop boxes by 8 p.m. that day.

“Every eligible voter in Washington can participate in this critical step toward picking the next president,” Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said in a news release Thursday, promoting the primary.

With Biden and Trump in commanding positions, the U.S. appears headed for a rematch between the two men, despite repeated national and state polling showing voters would really prefer not to do that again.

Given Washington’s not-so-early position in the presidential election calendar, it’s not unusual for our primary to arrive past the point where the race is largely decided.

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In 2016, Trump’s last standing rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, were on the Washington ballot but dropped out of the race just before the primary (held that year in May), cementing Trump as the Republican nominee.

In 2020, Washington’s Democratic presidential primary ballot featured 13 candidates, chiefly Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders but also other rivals who had ended their campaigns before the vote count here, including billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Biden narrowly won the state’s primary.

This year, there have been few signs of presidential primary campaign activity in the state. The March 12 primary doesn’t arrive until a week after Super Tuesday, when primaries and caucuses will be held in 16 states, including California and Texas.

While early primary results and polling show Trump seemingly destined to again secure his party’s nomination despite facing dozens of state and federal criminal charges, some Washington Republicans have lined up behind Haley as their preferred alternative.

The Haley campaign last month named a leadership team and endorsements from more than a dozen state lawmakers, including state House Republican Leader Rep. Drew Stokesbary, of Auburn.

Haley has vowed to continue her campaign despite losing out badly to Trump so far and facing a likely big defeat in her home state of South Carolina, which holds a primary this week.

The presidential primary is the only election in Washington in which voters have to publicly pick a party preference, signing a pledge on the ballot envelope declaring they consider themselves a Democrat or a Republican in order for their votes to count.

It’s a controversial requirement that typically draws protests and results in thousands of votes being invalidated from voters who refuse to follow the rule, sometimes scrawling their objections on ballot envelopes.

The partisan pledges only affect the presidential primary and don’t obligate voters in any other election, including the November general election.

Voters who don’t properly declare a party preference for the March 12 primary will have their ballots challenged — giving them an opportunity to resolve the issue if they choose, said Halei Watkins, a spokesperson for King County Elections, in an email.

Watkins warned against another issue that can mess up ballots: writing on the “write-in” candidate line on the opposite party for which they’re voting, “even if they’re making up a joke name or snarky comment.”

“Any writing on the write-in line is treated like a write-in vote in Washington State, so even if they are stating their displeasure with the candidates on the other side, they should not do that on the write-in line. Just ignore the entire half of the ballot that features the opposing party and you’ll be fine,” Watkins said.

In King County, ballots were mailed out Wednesday. If they don’t arrive by Monday, Watkins said county voters can call King County Elections at 206-296-8683 for assistance.

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