|As the 2004 primary approaches, Washington lawmakers face an urgent and challenging responsibility that could change the face of government. Their first order of business is to create a new primary system by the end of session in the likely event the nation’s highest court tosses out our popular blanket primary. Their second order of business is to choose a political compromise that works for our state and reflects the will of the people.
The heart of this century-old battle over Washington’s primary system is independence. The question is independence for whom, the people or the political parties.
Since 1936, Washington voters have long cherished their freedom to skip around the ballot and choose any candidate for any job. Washingtonians have always taken great pride in their ability “to vote for the person and not the party.” They’ve thrown their support behind Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, and minor party candidates alike in the same primary. Their party affiliation, if any, has been respected and kept private. Chances are if you pulled the voters aside, eight out of ten would tell you they prefer a blanket primary. They’re familiar with the system. They’re invested in this process. And, most importantly, it works.
Since the United States Supreme Court may very well end the blanket primary in our state, I urge lawmakers to change as little as possible. A similar system will continue Washington’s rich history and the effective leadership that has carried this state through trying and prosperous times.
Under the constitutional, modified blanket primary I endorse, the top two vote getters advance to the November ballot. On rare occasions, two candidates of the same political party may move on to the general election leaving no Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian in the race for a given position. This “top two” system is not only familiar with Washington voters it promises to strengthen the political parties. A modified system would provide an incentive for the parties to narrow down their field of contenders and run more viable candidates. Voters, whether casting ballots at home or at poll sites, wouldn’t notice any changes. Most importantly, it is the only option that does not affect voter privacy, or freedom of choice, or both.
There's no question Washington is different than most states. We vote by mail. We don’t publicly register with political parties. And, we reserve the right to champion any candidate for any job. A modified blanket primary will continue this tradition.
The blanket primary case, Democratic Party et al vs. Sam Reed, is in the hands of the United States Supreme Court. Should lawmakers fail to create any alternate primary system, Washington could end up with no 2004 Primary at all and a chaotic, general election similar to the recent California recall election in which 135 gubernatorial candidates were jumbled onto one ballot. This is simply not an option. To prevent an election fiasco, to maintain public faith in the democratic process, the 2004 Legislature has in its court an issue that demands full and immediate attention.
As Secretary of State, I must advocate what fits the unique political character of our state's citizenry, to ensure participation in the process and the continuation of our rich political heritage.