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Party declaration required to vote

The presidential primary election is Tuesday, Feb. 19, and the ballot makes history in Washington state. It’s the first time ever that voters will have to publicly declare if they are a Democrat or a Republican.

Meanwhile, if you want to vote in the presidential primary, or in local elections involving fire and park districts, the first deadline to register is fast approaching.

Those who are not presently registered to vote have until Saturday, Jan. 19, to fill out a registration form at a local library, school office or city hall and have it postmarked that day.

If that deadline is missed, one can still register, but only in person at the Island County Auditor’s Office in Coupeville. The deadline for that is Feb. 4.

Due to a change in state law following approval of House Bill 1526 last February, voters must declare their party affiliation in the presidential primary. The law passed both Houses almost unanimously, with the 10th District delegation, including Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and Reps. Barbara Bailey and Chris Strow, supporting it.Loann Gulick, elections supervisor in the Island County Auditor’s Office, noted Thursday that the Feb. 19 election will be conducted entirely by mail. The envelope the ballot arrives in will carry an oath of party affiliation for both the Democrats and Republicans.

Here’s the Republican oath, according to the Secretary of State’s office: “I declare that I am a member of the Republican party and I have not participated and will not participate in the 2008 precinct caucus or convention of any other party.”

Here’s the Democratic oath: “I declare that I consider myself a Democrat and I will not participate in the nomination process of any other political party for the 2008 presidential election.”

Voters will check a box next to one oath or the other. Since their signature is also on the envelope, that means the party choice is a public record. Gullick said the envelopes will be kept six months during which time, party officials or any member of the public can check the signatures and party preferences.

“Some people don’t like it,” Gulick said. “A lot of people say that.”

There is no presidential primary ballot for independents, so any voter who refuses to publicly declare a party won’t be able to participate.

“If you want to participate as an independent you can’t vote,” Gullick acknowledged.

But that does not mean you shouldn’t vote Feb. 19. The same ballot will contain issues of local importance. Gullick said North Whidbey Fire and Rescue will have a proposal on the ballot as will the South Whidbey School District, while the South Whidbey Park and Recreation District will have two proposals.

People who don’t want to vote in the presidential primary but want to vote in the local elections should simply not check a party oath box.

Historically, Washington voters had open primaries, in which anyone could vote for any candidate. But the Supreme Court ruled that method unconstitutional, resulting in a major overhaul of the state’s primary voting system.

Anyone with voting questions should call the Island County Auditor’s Office at 679-7366.

How primary votes are used

The two major political parties in Washington will treat the results of the presidential primary on Feb. 19 differently.

According to the Secretary of State’s office in Olympia, the Republican Party will use the primary to allocate 51 percent of its delegates, while the Democratic Party will follow its tradition and not use the results of the primary. It will only use caucuses to allocate delegates in 2008.

Caucuses in Island County will be held Saturday, Feb. 9. (See accompanying story for details).

Despite the limited use of primary results, Secretary of State Sam Reed expects the Feb. 19 event to attract presidential candidates to this state, which is one of the goals of the presidential primary.

“If, as expected by many analysts, the Feb. 5 Super Primary narrows the fields to the top two or three candidates for each party, Washington’s presidential primary could be pivotal in selecting party nominees,” Reed said in a written statement. “Candidates will blanket the Northwest in search of popular support ... Washington’s presidential primary allows Washington voters an important role in nominating candidates for the highest office in the land.”

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