Evan Smith: California copies Washington primary again

Sunday, August 22, 2010


By Evan Smith
ShorelineAreaNews Politics Writer

As voters in Shoreline, Lake Forest Park and the rest of Washington used the top-two primary for the second time to choose legislative and Congressional candidates, our State got a partner.

California voters adopted a top-two primary when they voted in that state's June primary.

It was the second time California has copied Washington.

In 1996, California adopted a blanket primary like the system Washington had used for six decades.

That made California the third state — after Washington and Alaska — in which a primary voter wasn’t limited to one party’s ballot.

California’s adopting the blanket primary led to a lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in 2000 that the blanket primary was unconstitutional -- not only in California but also in Washington.

California then went back to its party-registration system.

In Washington, then-Gov. Gary Locke's veto of a top-two primary gave us the private-choice or pick-a-party primary borrowed from Montana. Idaho, Illinois, Wisconsin and four other states, but Washington voters rebelled and chose the top-two system.

The political parties sued, claiming that the system deprived them of control over their party names. When the U.S. Supreme Court approved the system in 2008, it gave a nod to the parties’ argument saying that the courts could be open to complaints about how the system is applied. That’s what led to candidates' running with party preferences rather than party affiliations.

California will attack the party-name problem differently. Candidates won’t have any party-identification listed on the ballot, but California will keep the party-registration system it has had for generations; so a candidate’s party identification will be public record. That will eliminate the situation we saw in the 32nd District, where Republican Precinct Committee Officer Stan Lippman ran for state representative with a Democratic Party preference.

Still, California’s parties certainly will find other grounds for a suit.

Washington’s top-two primary is already headed back to court with a claim that Washington’s system confuses voters because it includes one non-top-two section — for precinct committee officer.

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