Judge kills state's blanket primary
OLYMPIA - A federal judge has sounded the final death knell for Washington's 70-year-old blanket primary.
U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess, in an order released by the political parties on Tuesday, barred the state from ever again using the popular system that has allowed voters to choose their favorite candidate for each office, regardless of party.
Although the Tacoma jurist had once upheld the blanket primary, he was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals bench sent the case back to Burgess for final disposition.
Rather than order further hearings on additional relief sought by the political parties, the judge simply took note of the 9th Circuit's decision and granted a permanent injunction.
"The Washington blanket primary is an unconstitutional burden on the rights of free association of the Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians," he declared.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2000 case involving California's copycat blanket primary, said the First Amendment protects the parties' right to choose their own nominees without crossover voting. The 9th Circuit, which also had previously upheld the blanket primary, fell into line last fall.
Burgess did not specifically address the parties' written request to include in his order such things as public voter lists, parties' right to control ballot access by candidates and the right to determine who may use the party label.
That left some differences of opinion as state, party and Grange lawyers tried to parse the judge's bare-bones order on Tuesday.
Secretary of State Sam Reed and Grange attorney James Johnson said the judge didn't grant the political parties the right to lists of voters who take a particular party's primary ballot.
"Despite pleadings from the state political parties, Judge Burgess did not ban Washington state from holding a Top 2 modified blanket primary system nor did he permit public disclosure of lists used in a Montana primary system," Reed's office said.
Gov. Gary Locke recently used his veto pen to create a Montana-style system that requires voters to limit themselves to one party's primary. The new system, which is being challenged in court and by initiative, doesn't require registration by party nor a public record of which ballot the person takes.
The Top 2 system advocated by Reed, but vetoed by Locke, would have allowed crossover voting to continue. The system, used only in Louisiana, would have advanced the top two vote-getters to the general election ballot, regardless of party label.
David McDonald, the Democrats' attorney, said the right to the lists was implicit in last year's 9th Circuit ruling. He said it's a moot point for this year's election, since there is no mechanism for requiring counties to record which ballot a voter takes. That could be added next year by legislation or litigation.
GOP state Chairman Chris Vance, though, said the point isn't clear and that his party may need to ask the courts for clarification.
On the Net:
Secretary of State: http://www.secstate.wa.gov
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