by Eli Mackey

Washington State’s 2012 Presidential Primary is among the recent victims sacrificed at the altar of budgetary woes. The financial problems left in this listless economy granted no immunity to matters of seemingly great civic importance. Washington State has become the first in the nation to suspend its 2012 Presidential Primary election as a result of budgetary constraints.  Instead, Washington will rely on caucuses to determine which delegates to send to the convention. The caucuses, which measure the degree of support for a given candidate from a gathering of community members to determine the proportion of delegates, will be sponsored by the Republican and Democratic parties. The move is said to save nearly ten million dollars from Washington State’s budget.

While Secretary of State, Sam Reed, notes that this is a one-time resolution in response to the 5.2 billion dollar budget gap, he indicated that the primary has more than ten times the turnout than the caucuses. For example, in 2008 the primary drew approximately 1.4 million people while the caucuses included fewer than 100,000. This may be due in part to the fact that the primary system does not exclude overseas voters. Caucuses are typically attended by individuals closely affiliated with their respective parties. As a result, the caucus forum gives party activists greater voice in a candidate’s election than the common voter might otherwise have given a primary. The GOP’s 2012 caucus will be held on March 3, while the Democrats’, with no challenge to President Obama’s renomination, will be held on April 15.

Washington voters passed an initiative establishing the primary system in 1989 reflecting the desire of ordinary people to be more engaged in the presidential electoral process. However, the delegate allocation has traditionally been left to caucus results. Even with the primary, the Democratic Party issues its delegates based on caucus results, while the Republican Party has allocated half of their delegates based on primary results with the other half on caucus results. Thus, some have rightfully pointed out that the primary system in Washington is largely symbolic as its results have only a partial impact. Given Washington State’s financial posture and the reality that the primary system has been largely ceremonial since its institution, it seems that it was a no–brainer for this legislation to be signed into law by the Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire. Continue reading