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Blanket primary eliminated in Washington state

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a Ninth Circuit Court decision that declared Washington state's blanket primary unconstitutional.

Because the Ninth Circuit Court decision wasn't over-ruled yesterday, Washington state must now change the primary election process it has used for nearly 70 years. State voters have been allowed to vote for whichever candidate they wanted, regardless of political affiliation or political seat sought by a candidate.

The appeal to the blanket primary ruling had been filed by Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, a firm believer in the long standing blanket primary that allows voters to cast their ballots according to conscience and belief, rather than tradition or political history. Because Reed's petition was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state legislature must now come up with an alternative to the blanket primary.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to not review the case pleased the state's GOP leadership. State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said the GOP will continue to work with Gov. Gary Locke and the legislature to craft an open primary law "...that respects the civil rights of the members of Washington's political parties and encourages maximum voter participation in the nomination of our candidates."

But not all parties in Washington state were pleased that the appeal to the ruling striking down the state's blanket primary wasn't considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Washington State Grange members, who along with the AFL-CIO and other groups started the blanket primary back in 1934 with a proposed initiative to the state legislature, voiced its displeasure.

"We feel that the appellate courts have overlooked significant differences between the primary statutes in California and those in Washington state," said State Grange President Terry Hunt.

"But we're not unprepared," said Hunt. "We've also been talking with legislators and letting them know that they don't have to give the political parties control over the primary in this state."

Hunt explained that the legislature can adopt a "qualifying primary," in which the top two candidates, regardless of party, move to the general election. He said candidates for state office and the legislature could still have their party preferences designated on the ballot. Voters would be able to vote for any candidate for each office, said Hunt, as they have for 70 years under the blanket primary.

"We believe this will hold up to any constitutional attacks the political parties try to hit us with through the courts," explained Hunt.

"We're not about to turn over control of the election process to the (political) parties. If the legislature, for any reason, is unable to come to a consensus about changing the primary, we're prepared to move forward with our initiative," Hunt said.

The "People's Choice" initiative (I-872) was filed by the Washington State Grange in January, and would implement a "top two" primary in which voters would not be required to declare party affiliation at any stage in the election process.

In learning the U.S. Supreme Court had decided not to hear Reed's appeal, the Washington State Senate Republican caucus announced yesterday afternoon it will work quickly to restore the state's primary election system.

"Today, we are at an historical crossroad as the legislature looks for an alternative to the blanket primary," said Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn), chair of the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee. "Legislators are uniquely positioned for this upcoming debate. We know what the people want and we know what the court demands."

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