Local Presidential Primary: Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson explains the process

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Primary is March 10, national census count begins March 12

By Matt Nagle

matt@tacomaweekly.com

While the 2020 presidential election is still nine months from now, the primary process is already underway in Washington State. Ballots to the general public were mailed out 18 days ago, and 45 days ago for military personnel. All ballots must be postmarked on or before March 10 in order to be counted.

Voters in our state aren’t particularly used to having a primary via ballot, so Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson met with the Tacoma Weekly to explain matters and clear up some misconceptions.

“We’re expecting a 40 percent turnout, which is very high for Pierce County,” she said. “In the past, it’s been 31 percent, maybe 37 percent, so this will be the best turnout we’ve seen in a presidential primary.”  

This primary balloting method presents a prime opportunity for registered voters across the state to have a voice in which presidential candidate they believe should receive their party’s nomination. With the Democratic Party presenting a full list of candidates and the Republican Party presenting one candidate, Donald Trump, each party will use the primary results for the first time in state history to allocate their delegates the national conventions. In the past, caucuses were used to determine this. Now, the process has been opened up to a much wider electorate.

Voters will notice some interesting things about their ballot, one being that it incorporates color, the only time that color is being used to indicate blue for the Democratic party and red for the Republican party. Another difference is that when signing the outer envelope, as is typically required, voters must also check a box above the signature line indicating their choice of Democrat or Republican.

“People see this and they think election law has changed,” Anderson said. “It hasn’t. We’re conducting this election on behalf of the political parties and because of this, you’re required to pick a lane and stay in it – pick a blue lane and only vote for one blue candidate, or the red.”

This does not mean that voters will have to vote Democrat or Republican in elections from now on, nor does it mean that they’re registering with the party they choose in this primary. Because voters don’t register by party in Washington State, this election is a very important way for the two parties to define who their membership is. 

“This is their one chance every four years to figure out who their members are. But it doesn’t bind you in any way going forward into future elections,” as Anderson explained it. “It does not lock you in for the November election. This is just the party inviting you to influence their nominating.”

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson said that a 40 percent turnout is expected for our state’s presidential primary.
Credit: File photo

Anderson made it clear that these rules are all state law driven by the two parties and state legislature.

“Some people are upset that someone will know whether they’re a blue or red voter just for this primary. That’s state law and that’s the way the two political parties wanted it. I argued very hard to the state legislature to have an unaffiliated choice because in the past, we used to be able to vote unaffiliated. There used to be a third box to choose from – that you have an opinion, but not red or blue. You can’t do that this year.”

Included in the Democratic list of choices is a box marked “Uncommitted Delegates.” This means that if you’re not sure who to vote for and you don’t want your vote to be wasted, checking the “Uncommitted Delegates” box means that you want the party’s delegates on the national convention floor to use their own judgment and vote for the best person at the time. You’re indicating, “I don’t know; you decide.” This is not an option for Republicans because the party didn’t want any choice but Trump. 

“Because we’re conducting this on behalf of the two parties, it’s important to know that the U.S. Constitution allows them freedom of association, which means that these are two private corporations and they get to control their own members and the way they conduct their own elections,” Anderson said. “That’s why they get so much freedom in how this is done. It’s their Constitutional right.”

There is also a write-in option for both parties. Since the party decides who is a qualified write-in, not just any name can be a write-in or your vote won’t count. The party had until March 3 to inform the county assessor’s office of any viable write-ins. 

“So far, we are unaware of any approved write-in candidate,” Anderson said. “People need to be aware that they may be throwing their vote away if they use the write-in.”

Anderson also advised voters to not use the write-in area for political statements, as only election workers in her office will see them and no one else. And it’s good to keep in mind that refusing to check a party box on the envelope, creating your own box or altering the oath will result in your ballot going no further than the signature verification process. 

“I can’t open it and process your vote,” she said. “More importantly, I’m going to spend more than $3 in taxpayer money contacting you with a first class letter and calling you.”

Another thing that voters should know is that their party declaration will remain on their voter registration record for 60 days after the election. It won’t say who you voted for, but only which party you prefer in this primary.

“We’re required by law to give that registration record to political parties. So if I participate in this election, the political party will know that I voted in their election. After 60 days, that information is expunged and deleted from the voter registration record,” Anderson said. “This is just the beginning of a very long and very important 2020 election cycle. All you’re doing is influencing the party’s nominating process at their convention and providing them with good information about who their members are. Everything goes back to normal starting with the August primary and the November election.”

When inspecting their ballot, voters will see that the list of Democratic party choices includes candidates no longer in the race. This is because the parties decided whose names were printed on the ballot and because the ballots had to be designed months ago in order to facilitate getting them to military personnel in time. 

“We are getting flooded with phone calls from people wanting to know who is still in the running,” Anderson said, and she advised voters to go online and check each party’s website for the most up to date list of current candidates. 

The best way for voters to submit their ballot is to drop it into any of the 46 ballot drop boxes across Pierce County. Go to www.PierceCountyElections.orgto find a location map, or see the insert that accompanies your ballot for a complete list of locations and addresses. Drop boxes close promptly at 8 p.m. on March 10. But don’t wait until the last minute. You’ll avoid long traffic lines by getting your ballot in as soon as possible, and you’ll also help the counting process go much more smoothly. 

If you’ve misplaced or lost your ballot, call (253) 798-VOTE to get a replacement ballot mailed to you. Anderson asks that you do this as soon as possible and not wait until election day.

“About half the ballots we receive are on election day or after and we can only verify the ballots so fast – it takes awhile,” she said. “We’ll be publishing election night results on March 10 and typically we’ll be reporting the ballots we already have on hand and have processed. For all the drop boxes that we pick up at 8 p.m., we won’t have those results until the next day or so.”

U.S. CENSUS BEGINS MARCH 12

Two of the biggest national events happening in our country this year occur within two days of each other – the presidential primary on March 10 and the opening of the U.S. census on March 12. Anderson’s office is in the thick of both.

The “decennial census,” as it is called, has been conducted every decade in years ending in “0” since 1790, as required by the U.S. Constitution.The census is quite important in that the data collected determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is also used to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities.

In our state and those across the country, right around primary election time residents will be receiving letters from the U.S. Census Bureau explaining how to get counted.

“And getting counted is the law. It isn’t optional like the primary election,” Anderson said. “It’s your Constitutional duty to get counted.”

What is different in this decennial census is that everyone will be invited to take the census using an online portal. The census is expecting 60 percent of respondents to be counted this way. 

When you are first contacted by the Census Bureau, you will be directed to go to a computer or smart phone, enter a code and count your household that way.

“You don’t need the code to participate in the census; it’s just helpful because when you put that code in it’s going to auto-populate the address and everything so it’s a little less typing and a little faster,” Anderson said. “If you lose the code or something, you can still complete it online. It’s not a secret code – it’s a shortcut.”

One person in the household needs to fill out the census and it has to be done in one sitting, so make sure you have about 10 minutes.

“Ten questions, ten minutes, ten years of impact,” as Anderson put it. “You are going to be counting everyone who lives in your household on April 1. You can sit down on March 12 and do it but the question you’re answering is who on April 1 will be living in your household. 

The online portal and the telephone option are available in 13 different languages. For elderly residents or those who don’t use the Internet, the phone function is a good way to go in that you will be talking directly with a person on the other end of the line. Also, you can go to any public library in Pierce County for help, as they will function as questionnaire assistance centers. Library staff will help you with the computer function or with the phone option. 

Anderson led the Pierce County Auditor’s office to get involved in the decennial census to help to make sure that as many people as possible get counted in Pierce County. Partnering with the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation added more punch in that the foundation has been mobilizing grassroots networks for the census by working with more than 40 nonprofits and creating communication tools in 13 different languages. Visit www.gtcf.org/initiatives/census-2020.

“For every person who was undercounted in Pierce County 10 years ago, we lost $1,600 in federal funding per person per year for 10 years,” she said. “The census data drives federal block grant funding and state funding for everything from education to food stamps, transportation… you name it, so it’s super important that everyone gets counted for that reason.”

Census data also drive political apportionment in the number of congressional districts for Washington State. “If our population has grown significantly, we could get an additional congressional district,” Anderson explained. “In the last decennial census, we got a 10thcongressional district – Denny Heck’s seat.” 

Reviewing the last decennial census, in 2010, reveals that Pierce County is at risk of being under-counted. A shaded map at www.PierceCountyCensus.org, which Anderson’s office created, shows an up to 73 percent mail return rate in some areas of the county in the 2010 census. 

“Poverty, lack of Internet access and race have a lot to do with people who don’t get counted,” Anderson said, “either because they’re not receiving regular mail, they’re afraid, they have a low rate of literacy or they’re moving around a lot. So we’re at risk in Pierce County because of rates of poverty and because we’re a very transitional community – lots of people moving from King County for lower housing prices, people that can no longer afford Pierce County are moving elsewhere – so those people are at risk of being undercounted.”

Of course, conducting a national census brings with it certain scams and frauds via email and social media, and those are reportable at www.2020Census.gov, which includes much detailed information about the census overall. Census workers will never ask to come into your house and never ask for money or personal information like your Social Security number. They will always wear highly visible government identification and only ask you to answer the 10 basic census questions.

Not participating in the census will result in the U.S. Census Bureau reaching out to you directly, including sending a census worker to your door, which is costly to taxpayers and a major inconvenience for the resident. 

“If you treasure your privacy, please respond to the census,” Anderson said. “April 1 is the deadline to get it done.” 

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