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1976 Official Election Results, Office of the Secretary of State
Legislative Response: Substitute Senate Bill 2032, 1977
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OWL Party Prompts Election Law Change
“It all started as a joke back in 1976 when Red Kelly, an Olympia-area jazzman and bar owner, founded the Owl Party—“Out With Logic, On With Lunacy”—as a mirthful alternative to an otherwise-humorless collection of candidates for political office. Real politicians, however, weren’t exactly rolling in the aisles.” Dean Katz, Seattle Times, 10-5-86, B-6 Red Kelly and a group of friends, in a fit of hilarity, filed for several statewide offices in 1976: the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor, Insurance Commissioner, Land Commissioner, and Attorney General, promising to “call in all the state’s negotiable assets and convert them to cash just to see what all that money looks like,” and “unemployment isn’t working.” In 1976, a minor political party could register candidates simply by collecting one hundred signatures at a nominating convention—which Red and friends called a gathering at their jazz club, the Tumwater Conservatory—to win a ballot slot. For a small filing fee, the jovial candidates were able to insert their photos and ‘statements’ in the official Voters’ Pamphlet and the campaign was on. Local political reporters had some fun publicizing the new party, much as they had promoted Vic Meyers running for Lieutenant Governor in 1932. Several thousand people voted for the OWL Party that November. Not everyone was amused. The next legislative session two members of the Senate Committee on Constitution and Elections, Senators Beck and North, sponsored a bill “establishing procedures for the nomination of minor party and independent candidates.” This bill considerably tightened up the regulations governing such nominations. The measure passed both houses and was signed into law June 30, 1977. The new law required a two-step procedure: the minor party must hold a convention, attended by registered voters from each election jurisdiction from which nominations are to be made, under a formula tied to numbers of voters active in the previous presidential election; candidates must appear on the primary election ballots and receive at least one percent of the vote before being eligible for the general election. The new law was challenged when most minor party candidates were eliminated from their races in elections in 1980 and 1984. U.S. District Judge Jack Tanner rejected the challenge, but was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case went to the Supreme Court in 1986 where it was reversed. U.S. SUPREME COURT, MUNRO v. SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY, 479 U.S. 189 (1986) MUNRO, SECRETARY OF STATE OF WASHINGTON v. SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY ET AL. APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT, No. 85-656. Argued October 7, 1986 - Decided December 10, 1986 “Justice White delivered the opinion of the Court. The State of Washington requires that a minor-party candidate for partisan office receive at least 1% of all votes cast for that office in the State’s primary election before the candidate’s name will be placed on the general election ballot. The question for decision is whether this statutory requirement, [479 U.S. 189, 191] as applied to candidates for statewide offices, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declared the provision unconstitutional. 765 F.2d 1417 (1985). We reverse.” To read the full account, view: U.S. Supreme Court Minor Party ruling, “Munro v. Socialist Workers Party” (1986): http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=479&invol=189 Resources for Further Study Web: “Remembering Red,” The Red Kelly Collection at the Tacoma Public Library: http://www.redkelly.org/Index.htm Articles: Anderson, Rick, “Sellout Owl Party Goes Out on a Limb by Spurning Its Political Roots,” Seattle Times, October 15, 1984 Katz, Dean, “Owl Rib: Joke Keeps Going—To Supreme Court,” Seattle Times, October 5, 1986 Stripling, Sherry, “Political Funny Business—The Healthy State of Humor in Washington Politics,” Seattle Times, September 21, 1986 Nelson, Rick, “Music: Tacoma’s Red Kelly is Jazzman for This and Any Other Year,” The News Tribune, April 28, 1995 Siders, Harvey, “Red Kelly: Requiem for a Curmudgeon,” Earshot Jazz Monthly, October 10, 2004: http://www.earshot.org/zine-arch.asp?NewsLetterID=71