April 18, 2024 11:05 am

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Uproar about party declaration on ballot envelope after Elon Musk tweet

WASHINGTON STATE—Some Washington state voters in uproar about being required to declare a political party (or party declaration) on their upcoming Presidential Primary ballot envelope after Elon Musk, CEO of X, SpaceX, and Telsa) brought attention to the decades-old tradition in a recent X post.

This is the second presidential election which requires voters to select a political party on the outside of their ballot, a decision that was passed by voters back in 2019, but the renewed attention toward the approach seems to be fueled by recent social media trends in which Washington voters took to X (formerly Twitter) to voice their concerns about security, privacy, as well as dissatisfaction with the lack of a third party option—only Republican and Democratic party options are available.

The Secretary of State’s Office explained the reason for only having two political party choices is that the Presidential Primary is to help the Democratic and Republican parties select their nominees for the November ballot stating that other political parties can qualify to place presidential nominees on the ballot through a process in state law at RCW 29A.56.600 through 670.

Voters are not required to make the same declaration during a General Election or any other kind of election. Whatever voters declare also does not bind them to making a decision in the state primary, or the general. However, if one does not declare a political party affiliation or vote for the candidate matching the declared party on the outside of the envelope in the Presidential Primary Election, the vote may not be counted.

These concerns made national news headlines after cartoonist Scott Adams (Dilbert) retweeted one voter’s post writing “how can this be real?” which roped in multi-billionaire Musk who shared the tweet writing a single question: “What?”

For the Presidential Primary only, state law and political party rules require voters to sign a party declaration on their ballot envelopes for their vote to count, and the voter must mark their ballot for one of that party’s candidates, the Washington Secretary of State’s Office wrote in a recent press release. This has been a part of Washington’s Presidential Primary process since before the state adopted all-mail elections and was the same process used for the 2020 Presidential election.

Party affiliation declarations provided in the Presidential Primary do not become part of a voter’s permanent registration, and the declaration does not affect how a voter may participate in future elections. Voters’ party declarations are removed from state records 60 days after certification of the Presidential Primary. Selecting a particular party also does not affect a voter’s choice or eligibility for future elections, the Secretary of State’s Office explained.

Still, the concern about having the party declaration visible on the outside of the ballot has left some voters concerned that this could be a means of election tampering or nefarious targeting voters of a specific political affiliation. The Secretary of State’s Office encourages anyone with these concerns to use an official county drop off box.

Bandi Kruse | [un]Divided with Brandi Kruse
jim walsh
Jim Walsh

Political commentator and Emmy-award-winning journalist Brandi Kruse addressed the issue on her podcast [Un]Divided Tuesday, February 27, featuring State Representative Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), who also chairs the state’s Republican party, to discuss ways that he has been trying to rectify the decision as well as discuss some of the concerns he has heard from his constituents.

“The Presidential primary is not like any other election. It’s run under a totally different section of state law, under a totally different set of rules,” Representative Walsh explained. “2019 was the last update to the law that affects presidential primaries, that’s when the current language of the declaration, having to select a political party [went into effect]. I was against it and actually spoke against it in 2019. We didn’t think having to declare a party affiliation was necessary or a good thing. Washington voters are fiercely independent thinking…people don’t like having to check one of those boxes.”

The law governing the requirement, RCW 29A.56.050, was enacted by Senate Bill 5273, which was sponsored by Senator Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) and cosponsored by 14 others including Senator Marko Liias (D-Edmonds) of Snohomish County and gubernatorial candidate Senator Mark Mullet (D- Issaquah).

skyler rude
Skyler Rude

Despite Rep. Walsh’s opposition in 2019 the majority favored the system. In 2021 Rep. Walsh worked with Representative Skyler Rude (R- Walla Walla) on House Bill 1265, that would have added a third option titled “unaffiliated” which would have allowed voters the ability to vote as they wish on the presidential list. That bill did not pass.

Walsh explained that while the requirement to check a political party is cemented by state law, the law does not require the declaration to be on the outside of the ballot. He said that is a “bureaucratic rule, that’s an agency decision that the Secretary of State, working in conjunction with county auditors has come up with.” Walsh’s office has attempted to come up with a different system that would protect the privacy of voters, such as including a flap—House Bill-2968— that would conceal the party declaration but was shot down being given the explanation that the current method of disclosing party preference on the outside of the ballot envelope is “easier to process.”

“I think that’s a major invasion of voter’s privacy, and that we have to find another way if that box has to be checked,” said Walsh.

Brandi Kruse asked Rep. Walsh if the decision would promote political advertising, or party-related mailers, to which Rep. Walsh replied, “short answer: yes,” explaining it is a public document for a 60-day window which, he explained, is one of the reasons it’s a privacy concern.

“Anyone who asks can get a list of who checked which box,” said Walsh. “I think that makes people less inclined to vote.”

Washington State does not require voters to register to a political party unlike some states in the country.

Ballot boxes in all 39 counties opened Friday, Feb. 23, for the March 12 Presidential Primary election. Vote-by-mail ballots are being sent to the state’s 4.8 million active voters, who may return their ballots to county drop boxes or by mail using the postage-paid envelopes included with each ballot.


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