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June 5, 2009 at 4:33 PM

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Krist Novoselic, 'Grange Party'

Posted by Bruce Ramsey

Krist Novoselic, former bassist of the grunge band Nirvana and chairman of the activist group FairVote, is running for county clerk in Wahkiakum County in southwest Washington. What’s interesting about this—at least, to people outside Wahkiakum County—is that Novoselic labels himself on the ballot as “Prefers Grange Party.”

Actually, Novoselic is a Democrat. There isn’t a Grange Party. There is a Grange—a longtime farmers’ organization—and Novoselic is an official in it. But he is not a candidate of the Grange. He is just a guy who listed on the state form, “Prefers Grange Party.”

His explanation of this is posted on his local Grange website.

Essentially, it is a protest to draw attention to how the state has implemented Initiative 872, the Top Two primary. Under that system, people run for office under the label “Prefers” XXX, where XXX is just about anything they want. It can say “Prefers Democratic Party,” “Prefers GOP” (which is what Dino Rossi used) or “Prefers Tim’s Cascade Potato Chips.” Novoselic put “Prefers Grange Party.” By leaving the label up to the candidate, the state can say it is not choosing any party's nominees. Its ballot has nothing to do with the parties at all. It simply lists candidates and allows them to write their own labels.

Here is Novoselic’s serious message:

"As a strong believer in private association, I oppose the way the state has implemented I-872, the Grange-sponsored Top Two primary… My issue is with the way candidates can appropriate the name of a private group"—which is, of course, exactly what he’s doing. Novoselic argues that private groups should have legal control over their names.

I agree with Novoselic to a point, though I’m not sure I’d change the law (or the interpretation of it) the same way he would. It sounds to me as if he’d make everything nonpartisan. I think voters lose important information when you do that—maybe not for offices like county clerk at Cathlamet, but clearly for offices like state legislature. I would allow candidates to appear on the ballot as “Democratic nominee,” “Republican nominee” etc., if the candidate were indeed the official nominee; “prefers Democratic Party,” etc., for legislative offices in which the winner is expected to join a party caucus; and “Independent” if the candidate were rejected by the party he claimed to prefer. That system would give the voter more information, not less, and be fairer to the parties than the system now.

P.S. Krist Novoselic replies:

I'm not proposing a non-partisan ballot. I think that party labels are
important to voters. And I also believe that parties are an
opportunity for people to get involved in democracy.

I propose a settlement with an AUgust primary with the top two vote
getters advance to the general election. The difference is a candidate
will need to get permission from a party or group to use their name.

Just like you mention - the candidate will be an official nominee and
there will be no more of this prefers party idea.

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