There is significant discussion about the 10 Republican representatives in Congress who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 riot phase of the attempted coup. Pundits said the 2022 midterms would show us how far the Republican Party has been radicalized, based on whether any of these 10 representatives are able to win re-election.
A little refresher: We have major elections every two years. One year we vote for a president as well as many state and local offices. Two years later, we vote again for many state and federal offices, but not the president. These are referred to as “midterm” elections (meaning partway through the term of the president). Primaries, which take place in August, precede the general elections in November. In primaries, the field of possible candidates is narrowed down to two, usually one Democrat and one Republican. In Washington, however, we have open primaries in which the top two vote-getters go on to the general election, regardless of party.
Most areas reliably vote for a certain party (i.e., King County votes for Democrats and Franklin County votes for Republicans). This means whoever wins the primary for that party usually wins the general election.
Voting turn-out is highest for the presidential elections, second highest for midterms and down significantly for primaries. Only about 40 percent of Washingtonians vote in primaries, compared to about 84 percent for the 2020 presidential election and about 72 percent for the 2018 midterm elections.
In many states, when Republicans have been in power, they used powerful voter data-mapping tools to gerrymander Republican supermajority voting districts. This has contributed to the radicalization of the Republican Party because more fringe and white supremacist candidates are winning the Republican primaries.
Democrats also gerrymander, but more Democrat-leaning states have neutral election commissions that try to prevent districting that guarantees an outcome for one party.
Two of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are from Washington state: Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse. Newhouse is expected to advance to the general election. Herrera Beutler conceded her election, though she was only about 1,000 votes behind her Trump-endorsed challenger.
It is hard to extrapolate much from her narrow loss, given that fewer than 50 percent of voters voted in the primary in her district, but her challenger will likely win in November.
The unfortunate reality of our primary system is that the people who vote in the primary in “safe” districts are essentially choosing the winner in the general election. This does create an opportunity: If you are in a district where a party is essentially guaranteed to win, you can vote for the candidate who may be more moderate at the primary stage. Higher voter turnout can help combat radicalization while still allowing you to vote for your preferred candidate in the general election.
Jill Mullins is an intersectional feminist, attorney, activist and much more. She has written for NW Lawyer, King County Bar News and LGBTQ+ outlets.
Read more of the Aug. 17-23, 2022 issue.