The Island Guardain
Locally Owned & Operated
360-378-4900 - PO Box 38, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
The Island Guardian is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists

2 centsIn 1933, the WA State Grange was a very influential organization with many members. One issue that concerned Grange members at the time was water and public utilities for farms. Grange members wanted to vote for candidates, not based on their party affiliation, but how the candidate stood on the issue of rural water and electric power. In order to ensure that primary winners from both the Democrat and Republican parties would be those who agreed with the Grange stand on rural electric power, the Grange sued the state and won the case for being able to list all candidates from all parties on a single ballot. Having accomplished that, the Grange could then instruct its members on which candidates were most likely to support Grange issues.

That is how the state of Washington came to have a top-two primary system. In a top-two primary system, all candidates are listed on the same Primary Election ballot as opposed to getting an exclusively Democrat or Republican or Libertarian, or other single political party ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of their partisan affiliations, advance to the general election. Consequently, it is possible that two candidates belonging to the same political party could win in a top-two primary and face off in the general election. In many other states the primary is closed and only members of a political party receive the designated ballot for their party.

In 2001 the Washington State Democrat Party, Republican Party and Libertarian Party sued the Secretary of State for a declaratory judgment that the blanket primary system was unconstitutional based on the First Amendment right of association. In other words, the blanket primary in a state where the voters do not register by party denies political parties the right to know who their members are and denies party members the opportunity to nominate their own party’s candidate free of the risk of being swamped by voters whose preference is really for the other party.

For example: what if the Rotary Club was about to choose officers and the Soroptimist Club wanted to vote in their election? You are probably shaking your head, saying, “Only Rotary members should vote for Rotary officers and Soroptimists for their own officers”. And, you are right. Likewise, only members of a certain political party should be able to choose the candidates who will best represent that party’s interests and further that party’s goals in the general election.

The courts affirmed the right of a political party to select a standard bearer who best represents the party’s ideologies and preferences. The example the court used is during Abraham Lincoln’s election. What if there had been a blanket primary in 1860? The pro slavery Democrats could have swamped the ballot and forced the Republicans to run a pro slavery candidate rather than Abraham Lincoln. According to the court decision, the First Amendment right of association also protects the “right not to associate”. That means that political parties should have the right to exclude those who are not affiliated with the party when selecting from the primary candidates.

In order to follow the court’s ruling, yet keep their blanket primary, WA State decided to provide a primary ballot with all the political party candidates, and require a signature on the outside of the envelope that indicates the party of the voter. Supposedly this keeps your vote a secret ballot but allows the political party to know its members.

In my opinion, the current primary system in WA State continues to deny the right of a political party to know who members are. By giving a blanket primary ballot to all voters and then requiring that the voter mark party preference on the outside of the envelope a political party can never be sure of who is really a member of their party. What if a person votes for a Republican but marks Democrat on the envelope; or vice versa?

In addition, this year, many voters who consider themselves to be Independent or Libertarian were denied their own party choices, because their candidates did not get on the primary ballot in WA State. Instead, everyone was compelled to vote in either the Democrat or Republican primary or to not vote at all.

That’s my two cents worth. What’s yours?
Minnie Knych