As of Wednesday, 47,000 ballots cast in Washington's March 10 presidential primary will not count. That's because those voters are failing to check a party declaration box on the outside of their ballot, or they're checking both the "Republican Party" and "Democratic Party" boxes. These mistakes render ballots "challenged," or, more plainly, "rejected."
King County alone holds over 15,600 challenged ballots, which represents 6% of the county's current vote total. That number will continue to rise as some Washington voters innocently forget to check the correct box, or else decide that the perception of their political identity is more important than their actual vote in the primary.
"It's high, it's really high, but we expected that," King County Elections chief of staff Kendall Hodson said of the number of challenged ballots.
Before we talk about why these numbers are expectedly high, let's quickly go over the process for correcting these ballots so you can make your vote count:
• If you messed up the party declaration on your ballot, your county election official will mail you a letter containing another declaration form. Fill that form out and mail it back to them. If they have your email and your phone number, they'll contact you through those channels as well.
• If you live in King County, you can log on to King County Elections' website, fill out your voter info, download the correction form, and return it by email.
Take the appropriate action as soon as you can. The primary is next Tuesday.
Okay, now let's talk about why you have to mark a party affiliation on your ballot.
Last year the state Democrats ditched caucuses for primaries in their presidential nominating contests, and the state legislature voted to move the presidential primary from May to March. These moves made the state more influential in the nomination process and more democratic, but they also required a change in the way voters displayed party affiliation.
In their bylaws, the national Republican and Democratic parties require voters to declare a party affiliation in presidential primaries. Parties say they do this to ensure that Dems are voting for Dems and Rs are voting for Rs, but these declarations also allow them to add voters to their databases. However, despite what Sen. Tim Sheldon says, candidates and parties can only legally use these databases for "political purposes," (i.e. mailers and shit,) not for fundraising.
States fulfill this party declaration mandate from the national parties in different ways. Some require voters to register with a party ahead of election day, but when Washington lawmakers wrote the new primary law, they fulfilled the mandate by including these little party declaration boxes on the ballots.
Washington's public disclosure laws allow those partisan declarations to become public record 60 days after the primary.
Because they're not used to it, Washington voters are understandably pissed off and suspicious about making that information public. Could the Democratic-controlled legislature have amended the disclosure law to exempt these declarations when they wrote the bill that moved the primary to March? Yes. But they didn't. Because transparency doesn't care about your feelings, "independents!!!!!!!!!" (That's not their reason, it's the reason I just made up.)
However, noting voter antipathy for these party declarations and being rightfully concerned about the number of challenged ballots, last week the Washington State Democratic Party argued the Public Records Act doesn't require Secretary of State Kim Wyman to disclose those party declarations.
Wyman's office "dismissed that complaint, noting the state Public Records Act makes government information public by default unless a specific exemption exists in state law," according to the Seattle Times. "The records act, created by a voter initiative in 1972, states the law 'shall be liberally construed' to promote disclosure of public records," the Times added.
Will Casey, a spokesperson for Washington Democrats, said that Wyman's office hasn't responded to inquiries about whether the Secretary of State sought legal counsel to back up their reading of the law.
Kylee Zabel, a spokesperson for Wyman, said her office has "worked with attorneys in the Attorney General's office" on this issue and those attorneys "have not raised concerns" about Wyman's interpretation of the public disclosure law. Zabel did not reveal details of those conversations, citing "attorney-client privilege," and added that Wyman's office did not request a formal opinion on the matter from the AG's office.
Regardless of these privacy concerns, you should know that checking this party box does not make you a Democrat or a Republican for life. It simply makes your vote count. If you haven't voted yet, be sure to check the partisan box that aligns with the candidate you're voting for and mail your ballot in ASAP. If you voted but didn't check the box, then correct your mistake ASAP. The clock is ticking.