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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Washington State: A New Blanket Primary?

[Starting in 1936, Washington state used a blanket primary system. The names of all candidates were placed on the same ballot, with the top vote-getter from each party advancing to the general election. Thus, the voter was able to vote in one party's primary for one office and another party's primary for another office. A few years ago, the law which established this system was declared unconstitutional by the federal courts.

In September 2004, amid a great deal of voter anger, the state used a system of separate party primaries. In November 2004, however, voters passed, 60%-40%, an initiative for a Louisiana-style "top two" election system. This system would also allow voters to choose among all the candidates in the first round, with the top two finishers, regardless of party, proceeding to the final election.

On July 15, 2005, before the "top two" could be put into use, it was struck down by a federal district judge, who ordered the state to continue using the system of separate party primaries. The state and the Washington Grange have appealed this ruling to the Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Credit goes to my friend Richard Winger, publisher of Ballot Access News (ballot-access.org), for introducing me to the concept embodied in the following letter, which I have sent to various newspapers in Washington.]

Since 2001, I have followed with great interest the controversy surrounding Washington's election process.

Clearly, most of your state's citizens would like to bring back a blanket primary. There is a way that this could be accomplished.

The federal courts have said that a state cannot force political parties to participate in a blanket primary. But nothing says that parties cannot voluntarily establish such a primary themselves.

As it now stands, you will have separate Democratic and Republican primaries in either August or September. One of the purposes of these primaries will be to elect precinct committee officers (PCOs) for each of the two parties.

Slates of pro-blanket primary candidates could be put together to run for PCO in each party's primary. Given its history, your state's Grange would seem to be the natural choice to spearhead such a campaign.

Once enough PCOs favoring a blanket primary were elected to control both parties, the Republicans and Democrats could simply agree to put all of their candidates on a single primary ballot.

You need only look to Alaska, where the state Supreme Court has held that two or more parties may enter into a blanket primary if they so desire-- whether the legislature approves or not. As a result, the Democrats and several smaller parties now list all of their candidates on the same primary ballot.

[The posts of these dates on this blog are relevant to this subject: October 15, 2004; November 23, 2004; and September 20, 2005.]


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