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5 things you need to know about this year's presidential primary in Washington state

King County elections officials demonstrate one of the machines that helps sort ballots in advance of the March 10 presidential primary.
Simone Alicea
King County elections officials demonstrate one of the machines that helps sort ballots in advance of the March 10 presidential primary.

Ballots will begin arriving in mailboxes this week for Washington's presidential primary.  They're due by March 10.

The process will look a little different compared to other primary elections here. Here are five things you need to know.

The primary will determine the number of delegates for each candidate at the party conventions.

Washington historically has had both caucuses and primaries. But it's up to the parties to decide which process they'll use to allocate delegates to their national conventions, where candidates are ultimately nominated. Last year, Democrats made the decision to switch to a primary and state lawmakers passed a law to move that primary from May to March. 

A candidate has to get at least 15 percent of the vote to get assigned any delegates.

Voters have to declare a party.

In typical elections, Washington runs what are called top-two primaries. Top-two primaries allow voters to choose any candidate, regardless of party affiliation, and the top two vote-getters move on to the general election.

Presidential primaries are different. In order to cast a ballot, voters will have to choose either the Democrat or Republican ballot. They also will have to check a box on their ballot envelopes signifying which party they voted for. Trying to vote on both ballots or failing to declare a party on the envelope could result in a ballot challenge or having your vote rejected entirely.

"The easiest way for folks to make sure their vote counts with no possibility of a challenge is just to check the box and sign on the line," said Halei Watkins, spokeswoman for King County Elections. 

This sample ballot envelope and ballot show how voters will have to declare a party in the March 10 presidential primary.
Credit Simone Alicea / KNKX
This sample ballot envelope and ballot show how voters will have to declare a party in the March 10 presidential primary.

Presidential primaries serve a slightly different function from typical state primaries. The presidential primary is a way for the parties to determine how many delegates will be pledged to each candidate at their respective conventions. And ultimately it's the number of delegates that will determine the party nominees. 

Voters' party choices are public records.

Ballots are secret, so nobody has to know which candidate you voted for. But which party's ballot you chose is a public record that can be requested. Your party choice in the presidential primary will remain on your voter record for 60 days.

"The parties will request that information from us. They want to know who voted in their primary, and that information is publicly disclosable," Watkins said.

However, the party declaration on the ballot envelope is not the same as joining a political party. The party choice only applies to that ballot.

Republican voters will only see one candidate. Democrats will see some who aren't running plus an option for those who are undecided.

One option that may look unfamiliar to voters who choose the Democratic ballot is "Uncommitted Delegates." The option was requested by the state party, and it's a way of voting Democrat without choosing a specific candidate.

Party spokesman Will Casey says Democrats requested the option in part because of the earlier date of this year's primary.

"We recognize that there might be a significant portion of Washington voters who are very committed to voting against the president and are dissatisfied with the way he's governed the country, but might not have made up their mind between our wealth of very attractive candidates," Casey said.

If the "Uncommitted Delegates" option gets at least 15 percent of the vote, the party will send delegates to the DNC who are not committed to specific candidates. Those delegates would choose a candidate at the convention in July.

Republican voters will not have that option because the state party didn't request it. The only candidate on the Republican ballot is Donald Trump.

Andrew Yang, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Michael Bennet, former Rep. John Delaney and former Gov. Deval Patrick all have suspended their campaigns. But they still will appear on the Democratic ballot in Washington because of the state's January deadline to submit election materials.

Other elections rules still apply.

Ballots need to be postmarked or in a ballot box by 8 p.m. March 10. Voters do not need to add stamps to their envelopes.

Online voter registration is open through March 2. You can register to vote in person any time before 8 p.m. on election day.

Statewide primary results will be certified on March 27.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.