A recent federal court ruling upholding Washington's top 2 primary election is another victory for voters of this state. It's time for the major political parties to stop a decade-long legal challenge of a voting system that Washington voters have embraced enthusiastically.
U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled last week that the top 2 primary is constitutional. The voter-approved primary system paved the way for the top two candidates from the primary to advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation.
With one minor exception, it was another sweeping victory for Secretary of State Sam Reed and the voters of Washington state.
The exception was Judge Coughenour’s ruling that it’s unconstitutional for the state to conduct precinct committee officer elections for the political parties when people of all political stripes can vote for their favorite candidate. Reed said the state will likely stop holding elections for precinct committee officers and let the political parties decide how PCOs are elected.
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Judge Coughenour’s decision is not that surprising given the fact that the United States Supreme Court has ruled 7-2 that the top 2 system is constitutional and does not violate the political parties’ First Amendment rights.
After the most recent victory, Reed said, “The people created this top 2 primary system by an overwhelming statewide vote in 2004 as Initiative 872, and it keeps voters in the driver’s seat in choosing their finalists for office in this state. It honors our wonderful political heritage of allowing us to vote for our favorite candidate for each office without regard to party preference.
“This new primary system has been a real passion of mine for the past 10 years, and it has proven very, very popular in the elections of 2008, 2009 and 2010,” Reed said. He noted that California voters recently adopted Washington’s primary system and Reed predicts other states will follow suit.
Lets face it, it’s been a long, difficult struggle to get a primary election system that meets with voter favor in this state. It was Democrat, Republican and Libertarian party leaders who got Washington’s popular “blanket” primary election declared unconstitutional after 70 years of use.
Voters responded with the initiative that creates the top 2 primary.
In the most recent court case, the top political parties challenged the constitutionality of the top 2 primary on grounds that candidates can claim a party preference even if that candidate does not have the backing or blessing of the political party.
In his ruling, Coughenour said the state elections division has carefully followed the Supreme Court ruling, and that it’s clear that the parties may or may not support a candidate declaring individual party preference. He said the system “does not create the possibility of widespread confusion among the reasonable, well-informed electorate.”
In the wake of the victory, Reed said, “We believe this is the end of a decade of litigation, and I call on the parties to forgo any further appeal and spend their money and time and energy on party-building, candidate recruitment and all the valid roles they play in our political system, rather than on legal challenges that cost so much for them and for the taxpayers of Washington.”
Sadly, that’s not likely to happen.
Both Democrat and Republican Party leaders have hinted at an appeal of Judge Coughenour’s decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and even back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Party leaders don’t seem to understand that continued court appeals run counter to the desire of the electorate in this state. Voters embrace the top 2 primary because it allows them to exercise their independence and vote for the candidate of their choice without having to declare a party preference.
Further appeals simply drive up the cost to taxpayers. Maybe it’s time for political party donors to rethink their generosity.