Washington voters are understandably confused by the ballots sitting on their kitchen tables this week. The ballots for the Presidential primary are due next Tuesday, May 24—despite the fact that there is only one candidate left in the Republican race and the Democratic presidential caucus has already wrapped up.
Our state’s voters are responsible people, so they will mail in their ballots even though they know they are wasting stamps. Washington’s Secretary of State will spend millions counting those votes, even though we all know we are wasting time and money.
It’s a meaningless boondoggle costing $11.5 million in taxpayer funds that would be better spent on increasing voter registration and addressing declining voter turnout.
Last year, Secretary of State Kim Wyman went on record stating that if the primary was meaningless, she’d ask the legislature to cancel it (Editorial Board, The Herald, 8/3/15). She failed to move up the date of the primary to March to make the primary relevant in the nomination process, and then again failed to follow through on her commitment to cancel this primary.
So why are Washington’s taxpayers wasting $11.5 million on the costs to print, mail, and count ballots for a meaningless election?
The truth is that May’s primary vote is a $11.5 million investment in voter list building for the Republican Party and its presumptive presidential nominee. On the primary ballot voters must declare a party for their vote to count. This party declaration and the voter data then become public information. These voter lists are then made available to use for fundraising, and to grow party influence in Washington.
Taxpayer dollars should never be spent to solely benefit a political party, Republican or Democrat. Voters already believe the system is rigged against them, and this empty election is just more evidence that their votes don’t matter. And in this case they’re right—their primary ballots only matter to the Republican Party’s fundraisers and list builders.
That’s not all. The opportunity cost of not cancelling this primary is significant. We should spend that money on increasing voter access, addressing our state’s voter turnout problems, and increasing voter registration.
In the last few elections, Washington State voter participation has fallen to historic lows. Voters routinely complain that by requiring voters to pay for postage, Washington is enacting a discriminatory poll-tax. Instead of spending money on a meaningless primary, we could have used $11.5 million to fund four rounds of postage-free ballots, install and operate a permanent ballot drop box for every 15,000 county residents, and place drop boxes on every college campus in the state.
Today, more than 1 million eligible Washingtonians remain unregistered. What if we invested our taxpayer dollars in proactive registration drives—online using digital technology and in person across Washington’s 39 counties? Each of these people has a voice that will add value to Washington’s civic discourse, and voting is often a first step towards broader community participation.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Washington’s taxpayers and voters deserve better. We should be spending this money on increasing voter registration and addressing Washington’s declining voter turnout, not building lists for the incumbent Secretary of State’s political party.
Tina Podlodowski is a businesswoman, former Seattle City Councilmember, and Democratic candidate for Secretary of State.