Grange sues to block Locke's veto - Organization attacks primary on multiple grounds



Olympia, WA - The Washington State Grange filed a lawsuit Thursday in state Supreme Court, seeking to block Gov. Gary Locke's veto of part of the primary election law, leaving a Montana-style voting system in which voters must pick a single party's ballot in order to vote.

Locke's veto eliminated the Top Two approach favored by the majority in the Legislature and by the Grange. Under the Top Two, only the top two vote-getters in the primary would have moved on to the general election. Locke feared that would have left too few choices in November when most people vote.

Under the open or Montana plan, voters must select a single party's ballot in the primary, although that selection is kept private. The Montana plan had been the backup option in the legislation, which was written to replace the state's legally flawed blanket primary, which allowed voters to cross party lines as they voted.

"The governor's veto winds up being creative lawmaking rather than the lawful exercise of a veto," Grange lawyer Jim Johnson said during a news conference Thursday.

Johnson, who is running for Supreme Court justice, predicted the court could start reviewing the case in May, if he and lawyers for the state can file papers quickly enough.

The Grange, mounting a two-pronged attack, is pursuing a ballot proposal, Initiative 872, to install a Top Two system permanently.

Bellevue lawyer Richard Pope also has filed several referenda to overturn the Montana-style election portion of the bill Locke vetoed.

State Sen. Tim Sheldon, a conservative Democrat from Mason County, joined the Grange suit as a plaintiff, along with Republican Sen. Joyce Mulliken of Ephrata, moderate Republican Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island and Jane Hodde of Orcas Island.

Hodde is the widow of the man who worked on the Grange's original 1935 initiative that gave Washington voters the right to split tickets with a blanket primary. Federal courts struck down the blanket primary as unconstitutional last year, because it let voters cross party lines to nominate another group's candidates.

Locke, who insisted at the time of his veto that he stood on good legal ground to alter the legislation, had no comment on the lawsuit, spokesman Glen Kuper said.

It was not clear whether the attorney general would defend Locke's veto or farm out the case to a private lawyer, spokesman Gary Larson said.

The suit attacks the primary on several grounds:

- Senate Bill 6453's title calls for a "qualifying primary" but the vetoed bill leaves a "nominating primary" in place. This violates a single-subject rule for legislation, Johnson said.

- It allegedly violates a state constitutional right for voters to have "absolute secrecy" in balloting, Johnson said. Under a Montana-style system, voters might be given up to three or four ballots, but they would select only one to vote on and give back the unused ones at the polling place, Johnson said.

- Locke's veto manipulated the legislation, creating a contradiction with its title, he said.

Grange spokeswoman Toni McKinley said the Grange has spent close to $400,000 in recent years defending the blanket primary in court, fighting to win a Top Two system in the Legislature and starting an initiative drive.



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