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If WA doesn’t require party affiliation when voting, why is my ballot asking for my party?

By Karlee Van De Venter, Tri-City Herald
Published: February 27, 2024, 7:35am

KENNEWICK — The presidential primary is fast approaching, with ballots being delivered now for the March 12 voting deadline.

But some are confused as to why ballots are asking for party affiliation. Washington state doesn’t require voters to register with a specific party, so why is it necessary in the presidential primary?

The answer is simple — presidential primaries are different. This primary is specifically used as a recommendation from voters for a presidential candidate, and specifying a party makes the process simpler.

Here’s how it works.

  • General information on primaries

Each state has different systems for primaries. There are open, closed and semi-closed primaries, as well as partisan, nonpartisan and all-party primaries. Every state’s system is outlined in its legislation. Washington uses open partisan primary systems.

The primary includes candidates from each major political party, submitted by the party. Minor and independent candidates are not included and undergo a separate process. The two party delegations advance to the November ballot, not the general primary in August.

Check out this article for a breakdown of each of the candidates.

In 2020, nearly 50% of all registered voters in Washington state voted in the presidential primary, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

  • Presidential primaries in Washington state

Registered voters will receive one ballot with all the Republican and Democratic candidates. You mark one party, and vote for the candidate you like the most for a spot on the general election ballot. If you do not mark a specific party on the envelope, your vote will not count.

You do not get one pick for each party, you get one overall. The party you mark on your envelope should match the party of the candidate you choose — it is not asking you to formally affiliate with a party, rather which party you are giving a recommendation to.

This is to determine a nominee for the general election.

There is no other election in Washington state that requires voters to mark a specific party.

Parties can request inclusion of “uncommitted delegates.” The Democratic party of Washington requested this inclusion, the Republican party did not. Voting “uncommitted” means you are not choosing a specific candidate, but instead supporting Washington delegates (that are also not committed to a specific candidate) to represent the state’s interests while deciding the party’s national candidate. For this option, you should mark your party as Democrat.

If you consider yourself any label besides Republican or Democrat, you can still participate in the primary and vote for one of the parties’ candidates. Research the candidates, mark your vote on the ballot, and then mark your party declaration on the envelope last, in order to ensure the party matches your vote.

If you vote for a Republican candidate, but mark the Democratic party option on your ballot, your vote will not count, and vice versa. The party you mark needs to match your chosen candidate.

This is not a permanent affiliation. It will not affect your future voting. The party you choose will be removed from your voter record 60 days after the primary results are certified, according to the Washington Secretary of State website.