Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Many states have considered removing Trump from their ballots. Why not WA?

caption: A voter passes by a King County Elections sign at a vote center at Lumen Field on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Seattle.
Enlarge Icon
A voter passes by a King County Elections sign at a vote center at Lumen Field on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Seattle.

Will former President Donald Trump appear on Washington's primary ballot in March? Trump was taken off the ballot in Colorado and Maine over his role in the Capitol insurrection three years ago. More than 30 states have considered challenges to his candidacy. Washington is not one of them, but that could change soon.

Steve Hobbs is Washington’s secretary of state and chief elections officer. He told KUOW’s Kim Malcolm about the ballot process here.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Kim Malcolm: Is this the kind of moment secretaries of state wish for or wish they could avoid?

Secretary Steve Hobbs: You know, a lot of focus has been on the secretaries of state across the United States, so this is a bit stressful. This is a new situation, but one that we're prepared to handle if need be. This state is a little different from Maine, Colorado, and all the other states. We have a different process here.

These challenges to Trump's candidacy are based on readings of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars anyone who has engaged in insurrection or rebellion from holding office. I mentioned we don't have any challenges in Washington yet. Why is that?

Because the names haven't been posted yet. Both parties will be giving us the names by January 9, and by state law, we place those names on the ballot in March. The presidential primary is a party function. Our office administers it. Who can initiate a challenge to a name that's going to be on the Washington primary ballot? Under our state laws, that's a matter for the courts to decide, and any registered voter can file a court challenge to a candidate that's placed on the ballot. Our state law clearly lays that out. Any voter has two days after the closing of the filing period to challenge a candidate's placement on the ballot.

Has a presidential candidate ever been barred from the Washington state ballot before?

No, not in the history. We have no knowledge of that.

You're seeing what's happening across the country. Are you expecting a challenge here?

It would not surprise me. Certainly, with what happened in Maine, we had inquiries to the office telling us, you should remove him from the ballot immediately like Maine. But Maine is a different state. Their secretary of state has the power to do that, our state does not give me the power to do that, nor would I want that power. That is way too much for one person to have, to determine whether a person should be on the ballot or not, especially for president of the United States.

This does feel like yet another big test of our electoral system. Who do you think should settle this matter of who is eligible to run, the courts or the voters?

I believe it's got to be our courts, and the sooner the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision in Maine and Colorado, the better it will be for all of us, all the secretaries of state, to move forward on this one. That way, there's no question.

Is there not a risk though, that if the courts remove a name from a ballot that could be perceived as being anti-democratic?

This is something that I've been wrestling with myself. This is not an easy thing. This is the first time we're dealing with this in our country. And you're right, it would be perceived, at face value, that this could be a shirking of democracy because we’re removing a name off the ballot, but so is attempting to overthrow your own government to remain in power after an election, which Trump did on January 6, or attempted to do. I think the best result is to have the U.S. Supreme Court make this decision.

The filing deadline for presidential primary candidates is this coming Tuesday. Any Washington voter who wants to challenge a candidate's eligibility only has 48 hours to do so after the names are officially announced.

The US Supreme Court agreed Friday to weigh in on whether former President Donald Trump can be kicked off the ballot in Colorado. The court says it will hear the case on Feb. 8.

Also, Washington's Republican Party submitted five candidates for the state's March presidential primary ballot. The list includes Trump.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

Why you can trust KUOW