Tactical Primary Voting for the Busy
Primary voting is important. But unless you’re really into politics – and you’re probably not if you have a job or career and a family and maybe a hobby or two – it’s kind of boring and eats into time you’d rather be doing something else. Plus you feel like you don’t know enough to be making these decisions anyway, and the candidates suck and, ugh, why even bother. But maybe you tick off some choices anyway. Do your duty.
Here I’m going to write about voting in a primary without spending an absurd amount of time researching every last thing about every candidate but still feeling like you aren’t picking too arbitrarily and probably your choice will represent you well. Then I’m going to walk thru my Washington ballot and explain who I’m voting for and why. Yes, this means you could just skip to the end and tick off your ballot on my recommendation. I’m okay with that. :D
Step 1. What do you value?
This is a step you probably don’t need to do before every election but it helps to think about it sometime before you do go to vote. And I don’t just mean what do you value in the sense of policy positions A, B and C. I also mean what do you value in terms of leadership style? What do you value in terms of prior political experience? How do you feel non-electoral experience translates to how a candidate would behave in office? How do you weigh those values depending on the type of office? How do you weigh those values given the context of other candidates (for a particular office or others) or the history of the position?
To start me off, here are some things I consider (this is not complete):
- If you read anything I’ve written, you’ll note I’m pretty “left” liberal. Obviously I’m going to prefer a candidate claiming positions on that side of things.
- But I strongly value effective government and recoil from candidates who demand “purity”. To take an extreme, I’d vote for a centrist who has a history of working with many of their colleagues and getting stuff done over someone who shows every sign of being intransigent and never compromising.
- I believe that representative government is more effective if it looks more like the people being governed. I will take a chance on a non-white or non-male candidate who seems likely to be effective and somewhat close to my values merely because that means a greater chance of government looking more like the actual population.
- I value previous experience in politics or adjacent to politics. No, running a business doesn’t mean you’ll be good in the legislature. Lawyers are not automatically good politicians. This matters more in higher level offices.
Thinking about this explicitly is helpful because it lets you just make a choice and not sweat ruling folks out if they completely miss on some of these areas. You’re acknowledging that you value many things and sometimes they are in conflict and it’s okay to stop researching a candidate and rule in or out. You’re never choosing for the best candidate of all possible candidates ever. You’re choosing from a particular set of candidates.
I’ll also repeat that I “vote with my vagina”, as has been crudely claimed about Hillary Clinton supporters (though how I’m supposed to attach a postage stamp with mine, I haven’t figured out.) I think it’s important to change representation in government, just as it’s important to change representation in media, business, academia, and so on. Given choices where I don’t strongly care about one candidate over another, I’ll vote for the one that makes the office or body they would join less homogeneous. GASP
Step 2. Gather your resources.
For any given election, I decide what resources I’m going to use to decide. That just means those are the ones I’m going to check for most (see below) candidates. I might do other research (or just general web searches) but that would likely be race by race depending on whether I find I can’t decide or find something curious about a candidate that I want to know more about. For my primary ballots, my resources usually are at least:
- The voter guide. Washington requires voters be sent a guide where every candidate has the opportunity to say something about themselves. I take candidates at their word and often I can rule out all but a few candidates easily (see below).
- The Stranger guide. The Stranger, a local “alt-weekly” puts out a snarky guide to the ballot that mostly aligns with my values. But they do invite every candidate to their offices so sometimes it’s pretty interesting. Here’s this primary’s guide.
- Candidate web pages, sometimes. For a lot of races the candidate pages don’t clarify more than what they submitted for the voter guide.
- The League of Women Voters runs Vote 411 and (at least where I’ve lived) has information about every race, which is sometimes a bit more detailed than other sources.
Step 3. Start Choosing
I usually go in ballot order. We’re vote by mail so I literally have the ballot in front of me. In previous states I’ve lived, there was a sample ballot along with the voter guide. For any race, I usually try to make a first pass and rule out a bunch of candidates. In a primary this is easy because I can rule out:
- Candidates who create their own absurd party. No, I will not vote for your Holistic Buzzword Party.
- Candidates who change their legal name to something weird in order to attract attention to their candidacy.
- Relatedly, candidates I recognize who run for office a lot and never get elected and are not serious.
- Candidates whose statement in the voter guide is incoherent, badly edited or otherwise not remotely at the level I expect in someone running for public office (exceptions made for second language cases).
- Candidates for a general office (e.g. governor or state legislator) who are running on one or two crankish policies to the exclusion of all else.
- Often, any candidates who has never held public office or have any significant related experience, especially if the candidate statement doesn’t seem to show awareness that experience matters. Not every position needs to be filled by someone with experience, obviously, but it almost always is a good thing.
How you’re … err, how I’m voting.
Okay, you just wanted to know how I’m voting, right? Let’s go down my ballot! Starting from the bottom since that’s the part that people get bored with the fastest!
Proposition 1, City of Seattle
First up, a property tax levy renewal that supports affordable housing, homelessness prevention, and so on. This is a gimme. It’s definitely something I value, government tends to be chronically underfunded here (no state income tax!) and this is a renewal. Yes, done. Moving on.
Initiative Measure No. 123, City of Seattle
Vote NOPE NOPE NOPE
Yes, for some reason we have two different way of numbering propositions for city measures. I’ve never really cared enough to look it up, but it has something to do with whether the city council puts it on the ballot versus being submitted by a group of voters. Anyway, this one is some nonsense about turning part of the seismically unsound waterfront viaduct - which blocks pedestrians from easy access to the waterfront and is a bit of an eyesore – into an elevated park. This just appeared on the ballot and I hadn’t heard a thing about it till recently, when I got a frantic and surprisingly vehement email from the Aquarium telling me to vote against it. It is pretty obvious it isn’t being pushed by a broad coalition of city residents and organizations. Lo and behold, my intuition is correct and every group I trust to have a position on it says to vote no, no, no. Probably it’s just an attempt to siphon public money off or maybe Seattle Process improving the waterfront to death. Whatever the motivation this is a clear no. The Stranger’s summary from the voter guide pretty much says it all: “Oh, for fuck’s sake, this thing.”
Ugh, the judges.
Cathy Moore for Superior Court Position 44 and Barbara Madsen for Supreme Court Position 5
Honestly I hate this section. My ballot this primary has a Judge Position No 44 for the Superior Court and Justice Position No 5 for the State Supreme Court. Each one has three candidates (plus write-in). In Washington, for most races, the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general election. Already you can see an issue here. But of course, these are judges which I’ve always thought odd were elected. Fortunately the judge elections tend to have fewer crackpots (I presume you have to actually be a lawyer, etc. to even run). But this leaves me in somewhat of a quandary: two of the candidates for the Superior Court position are current judges. Cathy Moore has served pro tem on the Superior Court itself and Eric Newman on the King County District Court. Those two fit definitely fit my “has relevant experience”. The third has no experience as a judge and conveniently claims an endorsement by Tim Burgess, who is a city councilperson I would vote out if I could (he sadly won re-election last year). His endorsement is a strong negative for me. Of the other two candidates for this position, one is a woman with six years of experiences on the this court and the other is a white dude with fewer. Both have fairly equally compelling endorsements and evince interest in justice issues I care about. But one is a woman, so done. I’d rather see more women running our courts than more men.
For the State Supreme Court position, sadly there is one crackpot candidate (whyyyyy). Of the other two, Barbara Madsen is the incumbent (a woman). The Stranger doesn’t much like her, but says to vote for her anyway. Her opponent, Greg Zembel, highlights his his work on a group that educates parents on the risks of sexual predators, which, ugh, yes I guess that’s important but I know statistically that’s just not one of the most pressing and common crimes so it strikes me as fear-mongering. Plus he’s a prosecutor who is concerned that the State Supreme Court is “too political”, which, blech, is usually code for “isn’t making decisions I agree with” which, fine sure, but let’s be honest about why you’re running. I guess I’m voting for Madsen. Have I mentioned I hate voting on judges?
Legislative District No 37, Positions 1 and 2
Vote for the incumbents
Our state legislative district is (unsurprisingly) solidly Democratic. The incumbents in these two positions, Sharon Tomiko Santos and Eric Pettigrew, have been re-elected several times since I moved here (both were in office before I moved here). Their challengers - this time only one each - are often not credible candidates. This year we yet again get a repeat challenger to Pettigrew. Again said challenger has an incoherent candidate statement. What does “counter disctatorship style government” mean and seriously the 37th district democrats are pretty, well, boring and not much like dictators at all. The other position’s challenger is all about drug problems and has no relevant experience. Sigh.
Of course there are only two candidates for each and both advance to the general so this is entirely pointless to write about. This district, incidentally, would be a great place to try to get a more stable foothold for a left wing third party. After all, part of the district 37 overlaps with Kshama Sawant’s city council district and she’s a bonafide socialist.
This is one of those races that is like dogcatcher. No one cares about it. It does matter. But, ugh, my choices. The first guy, Justin Murta (and it’s all white dudes and there’s only ever been one woman in the office), literally has “Owner of Button Pushers Entertainment” listed in professional experience and I feel like I’m being trolled. He’s also claimed himself as a member of the Libertarian Party which nope, I do not trust someone who is a libertarian to protect consumers by fairly and efficiently regulating the insurance industry (the department’s mission). Helpfully, his candidate statement is all about tort law evils and absurd claims about the Affordable Care Act, so I feel okay with ruling him out. Republican Richard Schrock is challenging the incumbent, Mike Kreidler. He’s held public office before and seems to have plenty of relevant experience and yet his candidate statement has a surprising number of grammatical and spelling errors. How hard is this really? But really, the incumbent isn’t bad (the Stranger helpfully informs me of some good stuff he’s done) and the challenger isn’t really offering me anything compelling. I guess it’s the incumbent. Or maybe I’ll leave it blank.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Now we’re getting to a primary race with a lot of folks throwing in their hats. I’m sure half of them will turn out to be cranks, so let’s turn to page 52 of my voter guide and rule some folks out! Surprisingly, it’s not even half cranks! Excuse me while I look for aerial pigs. Anyway, these candidates know how to submit photos that don’t make them look like creeps. Most of them look like genuinely nice people. Not that I should vote against someone merely because they have an awful picture but seriously if you’re running for a statewide office you should get a good picture taken.
So, moving on, I really do need to rule some folks out. The first candidate (in voter guide order), is John Blair and he’s proposing some absurd voucher system. NOPE. Next up, is Chris Reykdal who has quite a good history as an educator (teacher) and in education politics (Tumwater school board, state house representative and on the education committee). Pretty good choice, so let’s leave him in for the next round.
Ron Higgins’ candidate statement is long and goes on about constitutional republic and citizenship and then there is “I oppose mandatory vaccinations”. NOPE. Next we have Grazyna Prouty who also appears to be a bit of a crank talking about some Agenda 21 related to UNESCO. Sigh, NOPE. I guess I was wrong about this not being half cranks. Next is Robin Fleming who doesn’t seem like a crank but she just doesn’t appear to have a lot of relevant experience (school nurse?) so moving her to the side. Al Runte claims to be a nationally recognized educator (okay if you say so) and has a nice, kind of unassailably true set of of claims about inadequate funding but not a lot about what to do about it, and really no relevant experience.
Erin Jones is next. She’s the Stranger’s pick. She, like Chris Reykdal, has plenty of good experience both as an educator and in politics. I’ll consider her again in the next pass.
This is getting long. Our second to last two candidate is KumRoon Maksirisombat. He’s got a less impressive resume in terms of experience as an educator and in politics, but definitely some real experience. However his candidate statement is pretty vague and makes a claim about “administrative waste” which I pretty much always just sigh at. Not a strong NOPE but definitely not impressed. Finally, we have David Spring. He seems to have more experience at the junior college level which is not the main challenge in the state of Washington with chronically underfunded public primary and secondary schools. Still, at least some relevant experience. But, his statement talks a lot about somehow forcing the legislature to repeal tax breaks to corporations that underfund schools which … is not something the Superintendent really can do. Maybe he should run for a state legislature position?
Really I’m left with Reykdal and Jones. I don’t really have a good reason to prefer one or the other based on experience or policy positions, so I’m left with other values like getting more women or non-white people into state government. That means Erin Jones.
Commissioner of Public Lands
Seven. There are seven candidates for this office. Seven! I’m going to try to go thru this one faster because wow. I am just going to rule out all the white men. I feel like this is a small bit of arbitrary payback for the literally hundreds of years white men have been doing that to everyone else in this country (one of the men is also a libertarian which nope). Also I’m tired and want to get this blog post done. That leaves Karen Porterfield, Mary Verner and Hilary Franz. Only Hilary Franz seems to be heavily involved in environmental and land use focused organizations. Mary Verner has good experience, but doesn’t seem to be terribly focused on the environment. I also found her candidate statement not really focused on outcomes but rather platitudes (“as a taxpayer myself, I understand …”, really?) So, uh, that was easy.
Ironically, one of the ruled out dudes is endorsed by some other candidates / politicians I pretty heavily support and normally would be swayed by. Politics is arbitrary and cruel. I shall not waiver in my slightly arbitrary and cruel primary voting process.
Bob Ferguson or maybe no one
Ugh. Another two candidate race. I guess we get fewer cranks because they probably have to be lawyers. My choices are the incumbent, Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, and Joshua Trumball, a Libertarian with, and this is a quote from his statement, “absolutely no political experience.” Now, I would challenge the idea that an actual lawyer doesn’t have political experience: being a lawyer seems pretty clearly engaging in politics in a fundamental sense. His candidate statement is full of Founders this and that which really makes me want to barf.
I’m going to be upfront on this one. I’m voting for Pat McCarthy. I met her at a campaign event a month ago. She was awesome. The other folks I met there, including former Governor Gregoire and State Representative Judy Clibborn, spoke well of her, including her focus on regaining trust both with the public and with state agencies that have had to deal with a corrupt leader. Pat McCarthy also has been in an elected auditor position before and was the 2005 Washington State Auditor of the Year. She is the Pierce County Executive, the first woman to hold the position (what, seriously, it took till the 2009?!) Aside from the credible Republican candidate, Mark Miloscia, the rest of the candidates for the office have no elected experience (seriously, for a statewide office?) While Miloscia passes the experience bar, I don’t trust someone who decides to call out ineffective homelessness programs and prisoners escapes as his first examples of mismanagement given everything else going wrong in the state. Also, here’s some shade on the progressive, liberal Stranger endorsing someone (cough, dude) with no elected experience whatsoever for this position over someone (cough, woman) whose literally held the same job competently at the county level without even mentioning why.
We are on the home stretch! Only a few more offices and since these are the highest in the state they are likely mostly cranks so this will probably go fast!
State Treasurer is a weird one. Many of the candidates are going to tout their direct finance or accountancy experience. But, the State Treasurer is an executive position that is directing a large and sprawling state agency. Electing someone whose previous primary experience is as a CPA or an asset manager strikes me like hiring a CTO for a large tech company based on their knowledge of ES6 syntax (if that simile was incomprehensible to you, then you actually understand perfectly what I’m getting at). With the constraint of wanting someone with significant executive management experience, I rule out everyone but Michael Waite, Marco Liias and Alex Fisken. Michael Waite trips my filter against people running for political office who are disdainful of politics with him choosing to fill the “Elected Experience” section of his candidate statement with “you deserve a finance professional not a professional politician” nonsense. No, we deserve someone who knows how to run a large executive agency in government without expressing contempt for the very role he’s asking to fill. That leaves Alec Fisken whose statement is pretty generic (though what do I expect for state treasurer?) He calls out that he managed the Seattle city council investigation into the WTO protests which sets off some dog-whistles as that doesn’t seem terribly relevant to the role he’s running for but sure seems like it’s signaling something (or is just pointlessly listing every public activity he’s done?). The Stranger endorsed Liias who at least has held several public offices before and has strong endorsements.
One of these offices will present a genuine hard choice for me I hope.
Secretary of State
This is another three candidate primary, one of whom is a Libertarian so I think we know how this primary is going to turn out. Though, aside: good on the Libertarians for running candidates for a lot of these offices even if I’m not voting for any of them! Anyway, the Libertarian, Tim Turner, is ruled out for this position by virtue of having held no elected office whatsoever which kind of makes their candidacy completely unappealing. The Republican, Kim Wyman and Democrat, Tina Podlodowski, both seem like fairly credible candidates. Podlodowski is a Seattle Democrat. Done and done.
We are now getting to the silly season part of the ballot. Here we have 11 candidates. I think I counted that right. If I rule out everyone without real elected experience, I’ll probably remove the cranks in one go. That leaves Steve Hobbs, Karen Fraser, Cyrus Habib and Javier Figueroa. Figueroa seems unclear about what the lieutenant governor does (maybe he should run for the house?) Habib has an amazing candidate photo, great smile, with sunglasses on, because it turns out he’s blind. I am being heavily swayed by a pretty rockin’ photo because it’s after midnight and what does the lieutenant governor do really. He’s got a pretty good list of endorsements, excellent experience in the state legislature (which has to be harder as a blind man) and is focused on trying to get a budget passed that funds schools properly. Sounds good to me.
Definitely now we are in silly part of the ballot. Goodspaceguy is again running, after somehow mystifyingly getting thousands of votes for port commissioner last time. For governor, there are literally only two credible candidates out of eleven. One is Bill Bryant and he wasn’t a good port commissioner and he refuses to say whether he supports Trump. So Inslee it is.
There’s enough silly season in this race though to remind progressives and liberals that the right wing does not have a monopoly on bad ideas. Notable silliness includes an anti-fluoridation candidate and another who seems to think there is some conspiracy in the medical field regarding cancer. Of course, there’s also a right-wing candidate who submitted a statement with explicit anti-semitic nonsense in it and the actual credible conservative candidate refuses to clearly reject the anti-semitic nonsense running for president. Maybe the right wing wins this round of bad candidates for state office.
Congressional District 9
One of the big stories of this election season is that Pramila Jayapal decided to run in district 7, which the retiring Jim McDermott currently holds, even though she currently lives in my district, represented by Adam Smith. I would have loved to vote for her for the House (she’s my State Senator). Alas, she is running for the vacant seat which is pretty understandable (and also apparently perfectly legal). Not that Adam Smith is a bad representative. He’s fine. I’ve liked the job Jayapal does and would love to send her to the House. Anyway, in district 9, Adam Smith is facing no credible challenger except Jesse Wineberry whose previous experience is in the State House. The 9th is kind of special since after the 2012 redistricting it became “minority majority”, as the parlance goes, and I think is the only one that is. I don’t have anything against Adam Smith, but Wineberry has perfectly acceptable policy positions and seems like he might represent the district better. Plus Smith will have been in office 20 years, most of that serving a fairly different district than exists today.
United States Senator
MORE CRANKS. Seventeen names on my ballot. Aside from Patty Murray, the incumbent, I recognize at least a couple names as repeat crank candidates. Obviously my choice here is Patty Murray. I don’t think she has a credible challenger aside from Chris Vance, an anti-Trump Republican. Reading his policy positions, I could see myself supporting him if Patty Murray weren’t already totally awesome. He surprisingly has not absurd ideas about health care! I feel the desire to tactically vote. Like a lot of Republicans he’s calling for reducing debt and spending, but can’t bring himself to admit our defense spending is utterly out of whack. Oh well. Murray it is.
That was long, but I have voted and now you know how to vote too! The general election should be a lot more interesting!