Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sam Reed's "Top Two" primary throws the door wide open to ballot mischief

Back when the United States Supreme Court erred in giving Secretary of State Sam Reed the okay to implement the horrendously designed "Top Two" primary, I predicted that confusion over the new scheme was imminent.

When voters approved the initiative that created "Top Two" in 2004, they thought they were restoring the old blanket primary.

That is what the Grange and Sam Reed told them. But in actuality, the new system does not resemble the blanket primary. It still tramples on the First Amendment rights of political parties (freedom of assembly) but it also limits voters' choices:
The "Top Two" system, as the name suggests, only advances the top two vote getting candidates to the general election.

It doesn't matter what party they are from.

So if two Democrats get the most votes, the general election will be a contest between two Democrats. Those Washingtonians who don't want to vote for a Democrat are completely out of luck. The reverse is true as well.

In Seattle, this means Republicans can't compete in the general election. And in most of Eastern Washington, it means Democrats can't compete, which is bad for our state. Democracy thrives on debate and an exchange of ideas.

As for minor parties, well... you can forget about them.
Today Reed's office released guidelines that he hopes candidates will follow when they begin filing for office this Monday.

In order to get around the Supreme Court's determination that a blanket primary forces a political party to associate with a person who have been nominated by people who have refused to affiliate with that party, Reed & Co. came up with a law that says nominations and partisan identification are now entirely symbolic and have no bearing on who goes to the general election.

Consequently, instead of requiring candidates to identify which party they belong to (if any), candidates are now supposed to submit a statement that reads: "Sam Reed (or Candidate X) prefers the Republican Party (or X Party)".

But here's the catch: That language is merely what Reed would like would-be officeholders to use. Thanks to "Top Two", candidates are free to submit any statement they like. So if I filed for office, I could submit a statement that says, "Andrew Villeneuve - prefers progressive Democrats".

Or: "Andrew Villeneuve - prefers ice cream." Or I could promote a business, for example: "Andrew Villeneuve - Eat at Joe's in Redmond".

I made a point of clarifying this with the Secretary of State's office. Here's what new Communications Director Dave Ammons told me:
Those adjectives are not forbidden in the law, so it looks like state and local election folks will be required to accept them.

Our regulations outlaw only obscenity or implying or stating that you have the party nod.
So, as long as you don't submit profanity or claim to be the nominee of a party, you can apparently say anything you like, limited to a few words.

Reed, again, wants candidates to say, "Prefers Democratic Party" or "Prefers Republican Party" - and honor the "spirit" of "Top Two".

Um, what?

Listen, Sam, you and your best pals at the Grange created this big mess. You've opened the floodgates to confusion, mischief, and trickery by turning the primary into the first act of a general election where people can use the descriptor to say almost anything they like about themselves.

You have destroyed the integrity of our primary, which is supposed to enable grassroots participation - allowing a greater number of Washingtonians to join in the selection of the party nominees.

And now you have the audacity to insist that candidates use your little workaround for supplying partisan cues so you can pretend to the people of Washington State that you're holding a good old blanket primary?

Well, here's a newsflash: You reap what you sow. You're the one who has made it easy for people to use the ballot to play games and promote their own businesses or interests. All because you and your friends at the Grange can't abide the horror of an open primary where voters democratically pick the nominees of the party they identify with. Almost every other state in the country holds a proper primary, but sadly, we don't anymore.

Since the primary is already a joke, it might as well be entertaining. We'll be watching in earnest to see how many humorous or satirical statements accompany candidate names in the days to come.

Comments:

Blogger Steve Rankin said...

Louisiana-- where most of my relatives live-- has heretofore been the only state to use the "top two" to elect all of its state and congressional officials (and the Bayou State has this year restored party primaries for Congress). Since that state registers voters by party, candidates don't get to create ballot "descriptors" for themselves.

The Washington "top two" is, in my view, clearly unconstitutional for congressional elections, and that's just one of the grounds on which the political parties are likely to bring new litigation against it.

~~ Steve Rankin
Jackson, Mississippi
"Top Two" Analysis

May 31, 2008 1:01 AM  

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