What Happens in a Primary Election?

This is a big local election year for King County, with more than 600 candidates running for office. Not all races will have a primary, though. Except for presidential primaries, Washington State uses a Top Two style primary system. Under this system, a registered voter does not declare a party affiliation and can vote for any candidate in each race, regardless of the candidate’s party preference. The top two candidates in each race advance to the General Election, regardless of their party affiliation.

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For the August primary, the Seattle mayoral race has the most candidates. A total of 21 people are vying to be the city’s next mayor. The top two candidates with the most votes in the primary will move onto the General Election.

The Top Two system is popular among voters because it focuses on the candidates rather than the political parties. Washington hasn’t always had a Top Two primary system. From 1935 to 2003, the state held a “blanket primary” system where citizens could vote for a candidate of one party for one office, and then vote for a candidate of another party for the next office. The state briefly switched to a pick-a-party primary system in 2004, in which the voter was required to affiliate with a party and only vote for candidates of that party.

 

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