Opinion

State’s baffling primary yields honest results

Depending on the outcome of yesterday’s Super Tuesday vote in the 2008 presidential primary, Washingtonians may or may not get to play a meaningful role in selecting their party’s standard bearers.

But even if they do, it’s only going to happen by means of a confusing process calculated to appeal primarily to hardcore party activists and policy wonks.

Next Saturday, the Republican and Democratic parties will hold caucus meetings across the state starting at 1 p.m. Each party has more than 5,000 precincts, so there will be as many as 10,000 local precinct caucuses.

Voters must attend these caucuses to vote for delegates who will then attend the parties’ state conventions. Those state delegates will then elect national delegates (pledged to a particular candidate) to attend the national party conventions this summer.

All of the Democratic delegates will be chosen through the caucus system. But only about half of the Republican delegates will be chosen this way.

Which isn’t to say there won’t be a traditional primary election. Washington state will hold its presidential primary on Feb. 19.

Republicans are using the primary to pick 51 percent of their delegates. Since the Democrats aren’t counting the primary election results, their primary will essentially serve as little more than a beauty contest.

All of this has voters understandably confused, and more than a few are outspokenly upset about how seriously their input is being taken.

But such suggestions miss the point of what primary elections were created to decide in the first place. Simply put, it isn’t necessarily the purpose of a primary to determine who you or I may support as a presidential nominee.

Rather, the point of holding primaries is to decide who the parties will anoint as their candidates. To the extent our opinions do — or should — matter at all, it’s only in our capacity as a member of our chosen party.

And under the party’s rules — arcane though they may be.

That’s what the courts have repeatedly tried to convey when they’ve ruled against Washington’s so-called “open primary” system.

And one need look no further than last week’s Florida primary to validate the court’s judgment. In the Sunshine State, which allows voters of different political parties to cast ballots for whomever they choose, John McCain won a narrow victory over Mitt Romney on the strength of his popularity with self-described independents and even Democrats.

Among committed Republicans, Romney was the choice.

Say what you will about the outcome, but any system that forces a party to accept as its designee a candidate who isn’t even the choice of its members is inherently flawed.

Washington’s system, baffling as it is, can at least say it produces what primaries are supposed to produce.

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