Monday, January 23, 2012
It is time for the state's two major political parties -- Democrats and Republicans -- to accept that they no longer control taxpayer-funded primary elections.
Last week the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a crystal clear ruling that should put an end to the seemingly endless legal challenges -- and whining -- of party officials.
This ruling focused on whether it is allowable for candidates for office to pick their own party labels. The parties contend they control the Republican and Democratic label and therefore the state's primary system is flawed. The 9th Circuit disagreed because the wording on Washington's ballot calls for candidates to stipulate which party they prefer. This wording does not imply the candidate was either nominated or endorsed by the party, the court ruled.
Previous rulings, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have upheld the state's current primary system that calls for the top two vote getters, regardless of political party, to move on as finalists in the general election.
A decade ago the taxpayers essentially funded the primary election for the parties. But party officials did not like Washington's blanket primary system in which voters could crisscross the ballot, voting for Democrats in some races and Republicans in others. The parties challenged the constitutionally of that system under the freedom of association clause. They contended they can dictate who votes in their election and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in 2003.
As a result, Secretary of State Sam Reed set out to revamp the primary system in a way that would not force Washingtonians to pick a political party to be eligible to vote.
The top two primary was eventually approved by voters and it has worked well. It has made elections far more competitive. For example, it allows two Republicans to run against each other in the final in conservative Eastern Washington while two Democrats can square off in the liberal areas around Seattle in the General Election.
Still, it is no surprise the parties have continued to try to wrest control of the election from the state without, of course, wanting to pick up the tab. The party label argument seemed desperate.
"Given the design of the ballot, and in the absence of evidence of actual voter confusion, we hold that Washington's top two primary system, as implemented by the state, does not violate the First Amendment associational rights of the state's political parties," 9th Circuit Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote in the unanimous decision.
This should be the end of it.
If the two parties want to control elections then they have one option -- conduct their own elections and pay for them.