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Monday, April 7, 2008

This Has Been the Solution All Along

posted by on April 7 at 14:21 PM

The Democrats and Republicans are both chagrined at the recent US Supreme Court decision that upheld I-872 (the top-two primary), approved by voters in 2004.

Quick history: We used to have a top-D/top-R primary—a blanket primary—where all the candidates were on the same ballot and voters didn’t have to declare a party and could vote any candidate they wanted to. The top Dem and the top Republican vote-getters advanced to the general election (even if two Dems, for example, got the most votes).

California had a similar system, which got tossed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. So as a precaution, Washington changed to a closed primary in 2004—where voters have to choose a Democratic ballot or a GOP ballot. The two winners faced off in the general.

However, voters had a different idea. In 2004, they simultaneously approved a plan for a top-two primary regardless of party.

The Democrats and the GOP challenged the top-two setup, claiming it subverted their right to pick their own candidate. Two lower courts agreed (keeping our pick-a-party primary in play for the last three years), but last month, the US Supreme Court said the top-two system was constitutional.

There are lots of implications about this, and the parties are kind of refusing to acknowledge the decision. From a D press release I just got:

“The ‘Top-Two’ system is not a true primary,” said Dwight Pelz, Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party. “It is not an election at which Democrats will nominate a chosen candidate to represent the Democratic Party in the general election.”

“Voters want to know which candidate is the nominated candidate of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and of any minor parties, such as the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. Because I-872 eliminates the nominating primary in Washington, the Democratic Party will select our candidates through nominating conventions.”

That’s cool—and the Democratic party activists should do just that at their upcoming conventions, where they’ll pick Jim McDermott and Frank Chopp and Margarita Prentice etc. And really, this has been the solution all along and sort of proves I-872’s case. That is: parties can pick their own candidates, they just don’t get to hijack taxpayer-funded elections to do so.

The Secretary of State is still designing a ballot, but it will most certainly not say which candidate has the official endorsement of either party. It will be up to the parties and the candidates to get the word out on that.

RSS icon Comments


Lordy lordy... this is so democratic... it's easy to see why Any party hierarchy would be less than thrilled. As an Independent (and a Grange member) though, I'm gonna enjoy this. ^..^

Posted by herbert browne | April 7, 2008 2:24 PM
parties can pick their own candidates, they just don’t get to hijack taxpayer-funded elections to do so.

So the State will not let the parties use ("hijack") the primary to choose their candidates, but if, as is the case with presidential candidates, the parties choose their candidates by convention and ignore the results of the primary, everyone gets all pissy that caucuses are undemocratic, inefficient, the work of Satan, etc. Well, which is it?

Posted by kk | April 7, 2008 2:29 PM

I have no sympathy for the party machines in this case. This form of "top two" primary is actually the *best* thing since sliced bread for minor parties, as many people will be able to vote Green, Libertarian, whatever, and not feel as if their vote doesn't matter in the general election.

Posted by bma | April 7, 2008 2:29 PM

I don't understand all the haters. Your point about parties not being able to use taxpayer money to pick their candidate is spot on.

Anything that gets us closer to an instant run-off is good in my book.

Posted by w7ngman | April 7, 2008 2:31 PM

I hate political parties. Screw 'em.

Posted by Fitz | April 7, 2008 2:33 PM

Sigh. Open primaries. Caucuses and conventions are disgusting.

Posted by Fnarf | April 7, 2008 2:54 PM

@3 - how is this process good for minor parties? They will now never appear on a general election ballot in Washington State.

Posted by Poll Watcher | April 7, 2008 2:57 PM

I think Josh is missing the point. The law, as set by the top-two primary initiative, says that the winners of that primary are the only ones to go on the general election ballot. So I guess the parties can have their fun conventions & caucuses, but it looks like it will be a big circle jerk, with no outcome on who ends up on the November ballot (at least not without further legal challenges).

Posted by missing it | April 7, 2008 3:07 PM

Poll Watcher,

I disagree. If you had a Republican, a Green, and a Democrat in parts of Seattle; you could end up with the Green and the Democrat being the top two. Substitute Libertarian for Green, and Seattle for rural Washington and the same holds true.

Posted by Andrew | April 7, 2008 3:14 PM

We tried to talk to them about it when the WSDCC sent out someone to speak on the ruling at KCDCC, but they still seem to be stuck in old thinking at the State level.

See - this is why you don't get rid of a perfectly good and functional Blanket Primary ...

Minor parties will now be dead, quite frankly. People running as Democrats can be sued for trademark infringement (yeah, good plan, sic lawyers on them ...).

Of course, this will get rid of the Green candidates in the 7th Congressional District, as well as the sacrificial lambs running as Libertarians and Republicans in Seattle.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 7, 2008 3:16 PM

@7 - It's true, the Green and Libertarian parties both opposed I-872.

But, what is their reason for existence? To win elections? Or, to get on every ballot and lose elections?

With their opposition to I-872, it seems that their prime focus is the latter. They try to get on as many ballots as possible and present the threat of siphoning votes in order to affect the major parties' platforms.

If they were trying to actually win elections, I think they would support I-872. That would give them the best chance to win if they could end up in the top two, which is a possibility in very liberal or very conservative areas. I mean, is it really necessary to feed a poor Republican to Jim McDermott every two years, or would a McDermott vs. Green ballot be more meaningful? And, is it really necessary to throw a Democrat to the wolves in Adams or Benton counties?

It seems to me that minor parties opposing a top-two primary is completely self-defeating.

Posted by Mahtli69 | April 7, 2008 3:35 PM

It's best to think of this not as a Primary Election, but as a General Election with a November run-off. That's the way they do it in Louisiana, which our "top-two" was modeled after.

Problem is, the Legislature, in its wisdon, moved the "primary" to the middle of August -- the middle of vacation season! Now more than ever, voters need more awareness than ever, lest they miss what's now the most important election of the season.

Posted by Perfect Voter | April 7, 2008 3:39 PM

Our system is designed to make it so the average person doesn't vote, and only the well-financed and well-recognized, especially incumbents, get elected.

Which is why Sen Clinton is so shocked that she's losing.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 7, 2008 4:21 PM

Word to Josh! There is no good justification for taxpayers to fund the candidate selection process of a private party.

KK @ 2: If party members are unhappy with how their party selects its candidates, the solution isn't for the state to step in and manage the process for them. The solution is for them to reform their party, or find a different one.

Posted by David Wright | April 7, 2008 4:59 PM

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