OLYMPIA — Washington state has suspended its 2012 presidential primary in order to save taxpayers over $10 million.  The state’s regular Top 2 primary in August is unaffected.

Legislation requested by Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, and Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, was signed by the governor on Thursday despite their continuing support for the presidential primary as the preferred method of engaging the electorate in picking presidential favorites.  At a sober bill-signing ceremony, both the governor and secretary made it clear that they proposed the measure, Senate Bill 2119, only because of the state’s dire financial straits.

The state will use the precinct caucus and convention system to choose national convention delegates. Caucuses are neighborhood gatherings sponsored by the Democratic and Republican parties. The caucuses gauge the support for each presidential candidate, and those proportions are used to allocate delegates to county, legislative, congressional and state conventions, where national convention delegates are eventually chosen. The gatherings also deal with party platforms and other internal matters.

Reed said cancelling – he prefers the phrase “suspending” – the presidential primary was something he had never envisioned supporting, let alone proposing to the Legislature and governor.

“We absolutely prefer the presidential primary to the old caucus system,” he said. “In any other year, we’d be the last people to suggest not holding the 2012 primary. I actually fought a similar move in 2004.

“But $10 million is a lot of money when the budget gap is $5 billion and there are so many needs out there, and the voters have compelled Olympia to solve the crisis without new taxes.” Both houses already have passed budget drafts that book the savings.

Reed, the state’s chief elections officer, said ordinarily he would vastly prefer the presidential primary, because it involves many more voters than the caucuses, which tend to attract a more activist crowd.

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