Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Tempting, but troubling

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER EDITORIAL BOARD

If an initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot offered Washington voters the choice to bring back the "blanket" primary election, this newspaper would heartily endorse it. Unfortunately, that choice will not -- and cannot -- be offered.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional our accustomed ability to choose freely among political party slates to determine who represents those parties in the general election.

Democrat, Republican and Libertarian parties made few friends and many enemies in asserting their constitutional right to determine who chooses the candidates to represent them in the general election.

The Legislature and Gov. Gary Locke tried to fashion a primary format that was both constitutional and as close as possible to the "blanket" format.

The product was the "Montana-style" election held just over two weeks ago, in which voters were limited to one party's ballot for partisan races. Despite at-times dire predictions of doom, voter turnout was actually larger than normal.

Now the Washington State Grange wants to try something new: a "top-two" primary.

Proponents argue that Initiative 872 would change not only the format but also the nature of the election, from a "nominating" to a "qualifying" primary. It is a difference, they say, sufficient to pass constitutional muster if challenged.

And challenged it certainly will be. Party officials argue that it inflicts the same crossover constitutional injury done by the blanket primary. Voters who support I-872 should do so ready to accept another round of court battles and election uncertainties.

The political parties are not the only ones with concerns. The League of Women Voters is among the most vocal opponents of I-872. A major worry is the impact on the general -- arguably more important -- election. The general election ballot may wind up with two candidates from a single party for some races, but no Libertarian or minor party candidates for any.

Initiative 872's ultimate ability to diminish party power is debatable. And it falls far short for reformers seeking dramatic alternatives such as non-partisan, "instant runoff" or even proportional representation.

Washington voters have endured sufficient turmoil. Proponents of I-872 offer insufficient cause to start all over again.

 

 

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