Evan Smith: Primary vote on Supreme Court, Appeals Court, not District Court

Thursday, July 22, 2010

By Evan Smith
ShorelineAreaNews Politics Writer

The primary election ballots that arrive next week will ask us to vote for the Washington Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, but not for the Shoreline District Court.
That’s because Washington has different elections rules for different levels of courts.
Elections for the Shoreline District Court and other district courts in this and other counties appear on the primary ballot only when three or more candidates run for a position.
Since longtime District Court Judge Douglas Smith is running unopposed, and only two candidates are running for the other position, both positions will appear only on the general-election ballot. Appointed Judge Marcine Anderson and senior deputy King County Prosecuting Attorney Dennis J. McCurdy are running for the newly created Position 2 on the Shoreline District Court, which serves Shoreline, Lake Forest Park and Kenmore.
In June, I mistakenly wrote that we would vote for the positions on the primary ballot, with any candidate who gets a majority of the votes running unopposed in November.
That’s the rule for elections to the State Supreme Court and for courts of appeal. You’ll see three Supreme-Court positions and two appeals-court positions on the primary ballot even though both appeals-court positions and one Supreme-Court position have only one candidate each, and one Supreme-Court position has only two candidates. That means that we’ll vote twice to elect each of three unopposed candidates and that we’ll elect at least one Supreme-Court justice by giving a candidate a majority in the primary.
It turns out that Washington has at least six different rules for judicial elections.
  • Elections for full terms to the Supreme Court and the courts of appeals in even-numbered years always appear on the primary ballot, with any candidate who gets a majority running unopposed in November. In odd-numbered-year elections for unexpired terms, there’s a primary only with three or more candidates.
  • Superior-Court elections in counties with populations under 100,000 follow the same rules at Supreme-Court and appeals-court elections. Superior-Court elections in large counties have different rules.
  • Superior-Court candidates in counties with populations over 100,000 are certified without election. When there are two or more candidates, there is a primary, but a candidate who gets a majority is elected without running in the general election. In odd-numbered-year special elections, there’s no primary when there are only two candidates. 

  • District-Court elections go to November without a primary when there are one or two candidates. When there are three or more, there’s a primary with a candidate who gets a majority running unopposed in November.
Elections for municipal courts like the one in Lake Forest Park follow the same rules as non-judicial non-partisan elections. There’s a primary only with three or more candidates with the top two advancing, whether or not someone gets a majority.
Why all the different rules?
A spokesman for the secretary of state says that the laws for judicial elections were written over time, and that there hasn’t been a legislative rewrite of the judicial elections code to harmonize the various levels of judicial elections.
Why hasn’t the Legislature rewritten the laws?
State Senate government operations chairwoman Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, told me Wednesday that she doesn't remember the secretary of state bringing any specific proposal to fix the inconsistencies in judicial elections.

She said that her committee tried to pass a fix, but leadership didn’t want it fixed, wishing to keep the confusion in elections law.

"They left the confusion that arose with the passage of the top two," Fairley said. "They welcomed a legal challenge, since they hated the top two."


Dennis McCurdy July 23, 2010 at 3:10 PM  

Imagine that, a law that is not the picture of clarity!! Evan, thanks for clearing this up for everyone. Sincerely Dennis McCurdy

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