Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Help! Who Are All These Candidates On My Washington Primary Ballot?

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington's primary ballot is crowded with many candidates vying to become top-two finishers in the August primary. Five of the nine statewide positions are open seats this year.

The political spotlight this week is on the Republican convention in Cleveland. Next week it will move to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. But Washington voters have a political homework assignment that has nothing to do with the conventions -- and it’s due August 2.

If you’re a Washington voter, you may have opened your primary ballot and thought, ‘wow, there are a lot of people running for office.’ Seventeen candidates for U.S. Senate? Eleven for governor? Eleven more for Lieutenant Governor?

The smorgasbord of candidates doesn’t stop there.

“There’s a lot of action happening this year, it’s packed from start to finish and we have to do a lot of homework to be ready,” said Dave Ammons with Washington’s Secretary of State’s office.

It’s common for top-of-the-ballot races like Senate and governor to draw a plentitude of candidates. But usually not this many. And this year something else is fueling Washington’s crowded primary ballot: five of the nine statewide office holder positions are open seats -- meaning the incumbent isn’t running for re-election.

“There’s a lot of turnover in state offices,” Ammons said. “The most in modern memory.”

The challenge for primary voters is to weed through the list of names and pick just one for each race. Some of the names are familiar, like incumbent U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat. And the leading Republican in that race is former state GOP chair Chris Vance.

But what about the 15 other people running for U.S. Senate? Chances are you’ve never heard of them before. Most are first-time or non-traditional candidates.

TVW, the state’s C-SPAN network, has produced a Video Voters’ Guide featuring many of them. Like Donna Lands who prefers the Conservative Party and offered this explanation for her candidacy:

“I saved my babysitting money to get my name on the ballot because my hubby said I could spend it anyway I wanted to. I choose to spend it this way.”

Lands calls herself the “outsider of outsiders.”

There’s also Pano Churchill who prefers something called the Lincoln Caucus:

“We need to claim back our country from the D.C.-insiders, from the narrow-minded establishment and from the stale political parties.”

In the governor’s race, incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican challenger Bill Bryant are the leading candidates. But they’ve got plenty of company on the ballot.

From perennial candidate Gooodspaceguy, who wants to save Seattle’s waterfront viaduct:

“Let’s not destroy Seattle’s Viaduct. Let’s park on it instead.”

To David Blomstrom of the Fifth Republic Party:

“The obvious problem no one wants to talk about is the BLOB. Our bloated education bureaucracy.”

The largest slate of candidates for an open seat is for Washington’s lieutenant governor. Brad Owen, the longtime holder of that office, is retiring. Among those vying to replace him are three Democratic state senators: Karen Fraser, Cyrus Habib and Steve Hobbs. The leading Republican candidate, based on fundraising totals, is former CNBC anchor Phillip Yin.

But primary voters have other choices in this race too. Like Mark Greene who prefers the Citizens Party:

“I am not a Global Citizen, far from it. I’m an American. Period. Votes for me will once again signify the resurgence of commoners in our state and in our nation.”

Washington primary voters will also find a lengthy list of choices for superintendent of public instruction and commissioner of public lands, as well as state auditor and state treasurer -- all open seats. All told, more than 670 candidates are running in Washington’s primary.

But history suggests only about four in 10 registered voters will cast a primary ballot. That means it’s the 40 percent who will decide the top two challengers in each race to advance to the general election when more than 80 percent of voters are expected to turn out.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."