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March 09, 2004

No more primary elections

Much of the confusion around the proposal for a “modified blanket” primary election in Washington comes from the label “primary.” What Secretary of State Sam Reed proposes is not a primary election at all.

A primary election, says one source, is “an election process whereby a political party chooses its candidates for public office by a direct polling of party members.”

Another source calls it “a nominating election in which a candidate is chosen by a political party.”

What we have had in Washington since 1935 is an election “whereby a political party chooses its candidates for public office” by polling all registered voters.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that that kind of system violated the rights of the parties because it subjected them to dictation by non-members.

Most other states avoid this problem by registering voters by party, or by requiring voters declare their party when they come to vote. That is a primary election.

Reed’s plan is not a primary election. It says to the parties, in effect: “You pick your nominee, and we’ll put that nominee on the first ballot. Anybody else who wants to run can file the usual way and we’ll put him or her on the ballot as an independent. Then the people vote. “The top two candidates go to the second ballot, which is the final choice.”

We keep thinking of “primary election” and “general election.” But that’s not what we’re talking about any more. In Reed’s plan, there are two general elections. You might call them the preliminary election and the runoff election.
Neither is a primary election.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at March 9, 2004 01:45 PM



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