Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant filed a petition (pdf) in King County Superior Court yesterday seeking to overturn a Secretary of State ruling that she is not eligible to state her party preference on the November ballot.
Sawant had filed and made it through the top-two primary in the 43rd Legislative District House Position 1 race, but was also drafted via an undeclared write-in campaign in the race for Position 2. Under rules written by the Secretary of State interpreting state election statutes, Sawant was told she could choose between the two races, but would not have the option of stating a party preference if she opted for Position 2, because as an undeclared write-in she had not explicitly stated a party preference in the primary for that particular race.
Sawant has chosen to run against House Speaker Frank Chopp in Position 2. In the petition, Sawant's attorney Knoll Lowney persuasively argues:
Initiative 872 mandates that when the declaration of candidacy states a party preference, that preference must be reported on the primary and general election ballot. RCW 29A.52.112. But the County and Secretary of State have interpreted this to mean that when there is no declaration of candidacy—such as when there is a drafted, write-in candidate—the ballot must not state the candidate's party preference. This does not follow. Indeed, it is a common fallacy. A statute that says "If A, then B" cannot be interpreted to mean "If not A, then not B."
Nor is there any support in the statute—or logical justification—for falsely stating that candidate "states no party preference" simply because they were drafted as a write in candidate.
"We have nothing to hide," explains the Sawant campaign's political director Philip Locker about her fight to run as a declared Socialist. "We want voters to know exactly who we are and what we're about, and we welcome a conversation about capitalism and socialism."
To be clear, these are unusual and unprecedented circumstances that were not fully anticipated by either the RCW or the WAC. In such circumstances where the WAC is ambiguous, the Secretary of State is free to instruct county elections officials based on his best judgement. (After all, his office wrote the WAC governing elections.) Yet in an email exchange, state co-director of elections Katie Blinn insisted to me that: "We cannot ignore the WAC simply because the candidate wants a particular party preference listed."
But from personal experience I can tell you that this simply is not true. For example, WAC 434-379-008 clearly states that initiative petitions must have "The full text of the measure printed on the back;" yet in 2003 I received written permission from Secretary of State Sam Reed's office to print the full text of the measure on the front of the petition for Initiative 831, my initiative to officially proclaim Tim Eyman a horse's ass. It was a reasonable accommodation that was clearly within the spirit of the law, but outside the letter of the WAC itself. (In case you're wondering, it saved me the additional expense of double-sided printing.)
Why Reed didn't just accommodate Sawant's reasonable request, like he did mine, is beyond me. As Lowney concludes: "This unique situation should be resolved in favor of giving the voters truthful information to assist them in casting their ballot."
And the resolution shouldn't have required a lawsuit.