Local legislators have signed onto a bill that would provide voters ‘unaffiliated’ option during presidential primaries has been introduced.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman requested  legislation to allow for greater voter participation in presidential primaries.

 House Bill 1265 gives voters an option on the presidential primary ballot to not declare a party affiliation. 

This would allow unaffiliated votes (i.e., those cast by voters who do not indicate their party preference) to qualify for the presidential primary and be counted. 

Currently, state law requires voters to mark and sign the party declaration on their ballot envelope. 

The voter’s party declaration is public record in the voter registration database for 60 days after the election, though their vote is not, and they are bound to vote for a candidate according to their declared affiliation. 

Ballots left with a party declaration unmarked, or with a vote for a candidate opposite their declared party, are rejected and do not count. 

According to the Secretary of State’s office, nearly half of Washington’s registered voters participated in last year’s presidential primary (an all-time high); however, the election drew criticism from voters who objected to affiliating with a political party in order to participate. 

In addition, ballot-rejection rates are higher for presidential primaries (e.g., 4% for last year’s presidential primary vs. 0.8% for the general election), mainly due to voters refusing to disclose their party affiliation on their ballot. 

For years Secretary Wyman has advocated for the state Legislature to reinstate an “unaffiliated” option for voters. This option was available during the 1996 and 2000 presidential primaries yet was removed by the Legislature in 2007.

 “All voters, including people who do not align with a political party, should have the right to make their voices heard,” she said. “HB 1265 gives unaffiliated voters more freedom of choice and peace of mind, which in turn will increase voter participation and ensure our election results more accurately reflect the will of the people. It is a win-win for voters, for our elections, and for all Washingtonians.”

 “Considering our elections are paid for by all taxpayers, it seems only fitting that we find ways to make sure our elections are open and available to all voters,” said Rep. Rude. “The right to vote is a source of pride for so many people; it’s imperative we remove barriers that discourage voters from participating in our democracy. HB 1265 is a step in the right direction, and I encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to pass it.”

 HB 1265 was introduced Jan. 18 and is sponsored by Reps. Rude, Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles), Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), Bob Chase (R-Liberty Lake), Carolyn Eslick (R-Sultan), Jenny Graham (R-Spokane), Dan Griffey (R-Allyn), Cyndy Jacobsen (R-Puyallup), and Eric Robertson (R-Sumner).