Locke vetoes 'Top 2' primary in Washington state
KING5.com Staff and Wire Reports
Locke rejected a “Top 2” primary system similar to Louisiana’s primary, in which all candidates appear on the ballot and the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the general election.
Instead, he replaced Washington’s popular wide-open blanket primary with a system like that used in Montana, where candidates appear on separate primary ballots, but voters choose which ballot to cast.
“I have said all along that I support the Montana system because it best preserves voter choice in the November general election,” Locke said. “The Louisiana system is a poor option for Washington voters. It is likely unconstitutional, and it limits voters choice and participation.”
Locke restated his frustration with the state’s major political parties for their successful legal challenge to the blanket primary, in which all candidates appeared on one ballot and the top finisher from each party advanced to the general election.
Wash. Gov. Gary Locke press conference
"The top two system was almost certainly unconstitutional. It would have been thrown out," Vance said. "If it were implemented, it would take away voter choice in the November election by, in some cases, in many cases, ending up with two people of the same party running against each other."
State Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, the Republican Majority Leader in the Senate, was among those legislators who voted for the top-two primary. Finkbeiner defended that vote Thursday.
"In our minds it came down to vesting the power to the people in the state or to the parties," he said.
Finkbeiner said the primary the state ended up with is a good thing for political parties because it gives them more power.
Legal challenges and a ballot initiative to overturn Locke’s decision are expected, especially from the Washington Grange, the original sponsor of the blanket primary in the 1930s.
“We’ll go ahead and go with the initiative and probably challenge the constitutionality of the rest of the bill” that Locke signed, said Don Whiting, the Grange’s election expert, who predicted widespread public unhappiness with the decision.
“They won’t fully comprehend how it changes the election until they actually have to go through a new system,” Whiting said. “It’s hard to know why the governor would want to take us down this road.”
The demise of the blanket primary, approved by Washington voters decades ago, was triggered by a legal challenge to a similar system in California. In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the blanket party violated parties’ rights of free association by letting nonmembers choose their nominees.
A series of court challenges temporarily preserved Washington’s blanket primary until last month, when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Locke’s unusual choice stems from some equally unusual action in the Legislature this year. After the Senate approved the Louisiana-style option, the House amended the bill so the state would default to the Montana variant if the Top 2 system was invalidated by the courts.
When the Senate reluctantly agreed, Locke was left with a bill structured so he could veto out the section authorizing the Top 2 system, a strategy advocated by many dissenting lawmakers.
Locke said he was swayed by the argument that the Top 2 system, while offering more choices in the primary, would put only two candidates on the general election ballot, effectively freezing out minor parties and raising the prospect of two candidates from the same party.
“Given the much larger turnout in general elections, it makes sense to focus our attention on providing the greatest number of choices in November,” Locke said.
Vetoes faces opposition from Washington State Grange
The following is a written statement of opposition to Washington Governor Gary Locke's veto of the "Top 2" primary by the Washington State Grange.
The Grange, formally known as the Patrons of Husbandry, is a grassroots, non-partisan, non-sectarian, fraternal organization with its roots in agriculture. The Grange offers a strong, collective voice for rural Washingtonians and many opportunities for fun and community service:
The Washington State Grange announced today that it is now collecting signatures for I-872 (the "People's Choice" initiative) to run on the November ballot.
The initiative will institute a "modified" blanket primary system (also known as a qualifying primary) in which voters will not be restricted to choosing among the candidates of only one party in a primary election. Voters will also not be required to declare party affiliation when registering.
The initiative would implement a "top-two" system in which the two top vote-getters in a primary election advance to the general election, regardless of party.
The campaign was launched in response to Gov. Locke's partial veto of Engrossed Senate Bill 6453, which was passed by the legislature last month. The bill would have put a top-two system in place, which would then revert to a Montana-style system in the event that legal challenges by the political parties resulted in a successful ruling.
However, the Gov. Locke vetoed the "top-two" system out of the bill, leaving only the Montana-style system in its place. Under this system, voters are required to choose a ballot from only one party at a primary election.
"The Governor defied the will of the voters, and he defied the will of the legislators elected to represent those voters," said Hunt. "By changing the intent of the bill, he will have to face not only our initiative campaign, but a law suit by the Grange as well. He simply can't veto the qualifying primary out of a bill that is titled 'Enacting a Qualifying Primary.'"
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