Primer on Washington’s 2016 Presidential Primary

This month, Washington State is holding a presidential primary. If you are registered to vote in King County or elsewhere in our great state, you should have received a ballot in the mail sometime between May 4th and May 7th. The following FAQ explains what this is all about and what you should do with your ballot.

Why is Washington holding a presidential primary?

Sample presidential primary ballot

In King County, the 2016 presidential primary ballot looks like this.

Washington is holding a presidential primary because state law requires it. In 1989, the Legislature approved Initiative 99, which stipulates that a presidential primary shall be held every four years on the fourth Tuesday in May.

Sometimes the Legislature cancels this election (as it did in 2012 and 2004), but in years like 2016, where there is no incumbent seeking reelection to the presidency, it has typically been held. Last year, the Legislature provided the funding needed to hold the election ($11.5 million), and so it is being held in accordance with the law.

Please note that the presidential primary is a unique and completely different election than the Top Two election we hold annually in August to narrow down the list of candidates who will appear on the general election ballot. Confusingly, state law and county elections officials call that election a primary, but it’s actually a qualifying election in which the top two vote getters advance regardless of party. In a true primary, people vote a party ballot and participate in the choosing of that party’s nominees. We have not held a true primary to choose nominees for state and local offices since 2007.

Wait a minute. I thought the Washington State Democratic Party had decided to use caucuses to allocate delegates to the Democratic National Convention…

That’s correct — we did! It is up to the Democratic and Republican parties to decide what to do with the results of the presidential primary. The parties may utilize the results for the purpose of determining how many national convention delegates each candidate should receive, but they don’t have to. A political party can nominate its candidates however it wishes. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees to us the right to freely assemble. How we go about choosing our party’s nominee for president is up to us to decide.

The Democratic Party requires that each state party come up with a Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan and submit that plan to the Democratic National Committee for its approval. Some state parties — like New York, California, and Oregon — use the results of a primary to determine how many delegates the Democratic presidential candidates should get from their state. Other states — like Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, or Washington — use caucuses instead.

The Democratic Party of Washington State has historically always used a caucus and convention system to allocate its national delegates, and your Washington State Democratic Central Committee (WSDCC) decided last year to use that method again in 2016. We held our precinct caucuses on March 26th, legislative district caucuses on April 17th, and county conventions/legislative district subcaucuses on May 1st. Congressional district caucuses are up next, on May 21st. That’s where we’ll elect our first group of national convention delegates.

You can read our state party’s Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan here.

What are the Republicans doing?

The Washington State Republican Party previously decided to use the results of the presidential primary to allocate all of its forty-four national convention delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. However, the Republican contest is effectively over now that Ted Cruz and John Kasich have withdrawn. No matter what the outcome of the Republican primary is here in Washington, Donald Trump will remain the presumptive nominee.

Since the Democratic Party won’t be making use of the presidential primary results to allocate delegates, should I even bother to return my ballot?

Yes, you should. We strongly encourage you to mark your ballot for Hillary or Bernie and return it before May 24th. Even though this election is just a straw poll, it’s critical that we all participate. Let’s show our fellow Washingtonians and the mass media that we want a Democrat to succeed President Obama as our nation’s Commander-in-Chief… not Donald Trump.

Remember that for your vote to count, you can only vote for one candidate on one of the two party ballots. If you vote for Bernie or Hillary, you must check the box on the return envelope attesting that you are a Democratic voter and that you will not participate in any other party’s nominating process this year. Failure to do this will cause your ballot to be invalidated.

Caucus and convention information for 2016


Each even-numbered year, the Democratic Party holds caucuses and conventions to elect delegates and hear from candidates, as well as adopt resolutions and agree on a platform at the county and state levels.

All Washingtonians who identify as Democrats are encouraged to attend these events. There will be five events in this year’s caucus and convention cycle:

  1. the precinct caucuses on Saturday, March 26th, at 10 AM;
  2. the legislative district caucuses on Sunday, April 17th at 1 PM;
  3. the King County Democratic Convention at Hazen High on Sunday, May 1st, at 1 PM;
  4. the congressional district caucuses on Saturday, May 21st (10 AM anticipated start time);
  5. the Washington State Democratic Convention from June 17th – 19th (all day) in Tacoma.
    1. Opening ceremonies like the banquet dinner will take place on Friday, June 17th
    2. The Convention itself will take place on Saturday, June 18th, starting at 9 AM
    3. Selection of delegates to the Democratic National Convention will take place on Sunday, June 19th

These events will be followed by the Democratic National Convention from July 25th – 28th, 2016, in Philadelphia.

What were the results of the March 26th presidential precinct caucuses?

The Washington State Democratic Party has a page that shows the results of the March 26th presidential precinct caucuses.

What is a caucus? What happens at a caucus?

Very simply, a caucus is a meeting of Democratic voters and activists. It’s a chance to meet your Democratic neighbors and discuss who would be the best candidate to succeed President Obama as our country’s next leader. Participants elect delegates to the next level of caucuses for their presidential candidate of choice (e.g. Hillary or Bernie). Any Washingtonian who will be eighteen by November 8th, 2016, who considers themselves to be a Democrat, and is willing to publicly identify as a Democrat may participate in the caucuses.

I haven’t turned eighteen yet. Can I participate in the caucuses and conventions?

If you will turn eighteen by Election Day, November 8th, 2016, then yes, you may participate. Note that you can only vote at the upcoming congressional district caucuses and state convention if you were elected as a delegate or alternate to go to those events. You can run for delegate to the National Convention, but you must submit your declaration of candidacy by May 6th (to run at the congressional level) or June 10th (to run for a statewide at-large position). You may register to vote exactly as if you were already eighteen and King County Elections will simply hold your registration for activation on your birthday.

I am not a United States citizen. Can I participate in the caucuses and conventions?

You may attend as an observer/guest, but you may not vote unless you are a U.S. citizen and resident of Washington who is of age (or will be by November 8th).

King County Democrats endorse Tina Podlodowski for Secretary of State

Acting on a recommendation from its Endorsements Committee, the executive board of the King County Democrats tonight voted to make Tina Podlodowski its first endorsed candidate of the 2016 cycle. Podlodowski, a former Seattle City Councilmember and distinguished civic and nonprofit leader, is challenging Republican Kim Wyman for Secretary of State.

Tina Podlodowski

Tina Podlodowski

Wyman is the latest in a line of Republicans to have held the office since the 1950s. Since Wyman took office in 2013, Washington has experienced three straight general elections in a row with poor turnout.

Last year’s statewide turnout was the worst since Washington began registering voters in the 1930s.

“The King County Democrats believe our state needs a leader in our executive department who is committed to getting rid of barriers to voting and drastically boosting voter turnout,” said Rich Erwin, Chair of the King County Democrats. “Tina will be that leader. Unlike Kim Wyman, Tina supports the Washington Voting Rights Act and same-day voter registration. Tina is running because our state needs a chief voting officer, not just a chief elections officer.”

King County Democratic endorsement rules commit the party to supporting the candidates for executive and federal office that the Washington State Democratic Party nominates at the State Convention, scheduled for June 17th-19th, 2016 in Tacoma. King County Democratic leadership will be working to secure Podlodowski’s nomination for Secretary of State prior to and at the Convention.

King County Democrats celebrate high caucus turnout

This morning, tens of thousands of Democratic activists and voters throughout King County came together to kick off the 2016 Washington State Democratic Party’s caucus and convention cycle by participating in presidential precinct caucuses at hundreds of neighborhood locations.

Preliminary reports from party leaders suggest turnout was incredibly high, after visits by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to the state this week, on par with the record 2008 turnout in many places.

King County Democratic Chair Rich Erwin released the following statement following the adjournment of most of the precinct caucuses.

“Today, huge numbers of passionate Democrats made time on a busy, sunny Saturday morning to participate in our party’s presidential caucuses. To everyone who attended, we extend our most profound thanks. We are especially grateful to our volunteer area caucus coordinators and their teams. Without their involvement and dedication, our legislative district organizations would not have been able to put on successful caucuses.”

“We are committed in 2016 to electing a Democratic president to take over for President Obama on January 20th, 2017. We need to build on the hard-won progress we’ve made in rebuilding our country since the Bush years, not go backwards. We, the Martin Luther King Jr. County Democrats, emphatically reject the ugly, divisive politics of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, which are at odds with our county and our state’s finest traditional values. We are fired up to elect Democrats up and down the ballot this year.”

“This Tuesday, we anticipate making our first endorsement of the 2016 cycle, and we look forward to hearing the first report from our Endorsements Committee.”

King County Democrats’ statement on retirement of Congressman Jim McDermott

The King County Democratic Party released the following statement after Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) announced his retirement from Congress.

“Jim McDermott has been a dependable, principled advocate for the people of our region for nearly three decades in Congress,” said King County Democratic Chair Rich Erwin. “Representative McDermott took a firm stand against George W. Bush’s unwarranted invasion of Iraq when few others were willing to do so. He has worked to reform our nation’s mental health system, helped secure badly needed funding to improve mass transit in greater Seattle, and strengthened ties between the United States and the nations of Africa. We are incredibly grateful for his years of public service, and we wish him the very best in retirement. We look forward to honoring him for his many accomplishments in the near future.”