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The Top Two Primary, Initiative 872

Washington Administrative Codes

Introduction

The people of Washington approved Initiative 872 in the 2004 General Election. The initiative implements a new form of primary election, known as a top two primary. Under this system, the primary no longer serves to select the nominees of a political party. Rather, it merely winnows the number of candidates down to two. In a top two primary, the two candidates who receive the most votes advance to the general election, regardless of party preference.

Initiative 872 applies to races for partisan office only. Partisan offices include congressional, statewide, legislative, and most county offices. Although Initiative 872 does not impact nonpartisan races in Washington, those offices have historically been elected under a top two primary system. Nonpartisan offices include municipal and judicial offices, and district offices such as school, fire and water districts.

Candidates Filing for Office

Candidates file for office in July as they have under Washington's previous primary systems. Candidates do not have to be endorsed by a political party or conduct nominating conventions in order to file declarations of candidacy. It is therefore the choice of the candidates, as opposed to political parties, to decide party preference. Candidates may specify a party preference on the declaration of candidacy, or may opt to be independent. Party preference may be a major or minor political party. All candidates who file declarations of candidacy appear in the primary election, regardless of party preference, unlike the 2004 Primary that allowed minor party and independent candidates to skip the primary and advance directly to the general election.

The Primary Election

Voters may vote for any candidate on the primary election ballot, regardless of party preference on the part of the candidate or voter. Voters do not have to pick a party and vote only for candidates of that party, as was the case in the 2004 Primary. Each candidate's party preference or independent status is listed on the ballot as provided on the declaration of candidacy. All candidates are listed on the same ballot, unlike the 2004 Primary that utilized party ballots. Within each race, candidates are listed randomly - party preference has no bearing on the order that candidates are listed on the ballot. The votes for each candidate are counted, with no weight or significance given to a candidate's party preference.

The General Election

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary advance to the general election, regardless of party preference. This may result in two candidates who designate the same party preference both appearing in the general election. As was the case previously, candidates must also receive at least 1% of the votes in the primary in order to advance to the general election. On the general election ballot, candidates are listed in order of their success in the primary: the candidate who received the most votes in the primary is listed first and the candidate who received the second most votes is listed second. The votes for each candidate are counted, and the candidate who receives the most votes in the general election is declared elected.