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Originally published Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 3:45 PM

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Washington's top-two primary gets voters the better choice

The Seattle Times editorial board argues that the top-two primary system worked well in the Aug. 17 primary challenges to state Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, and state Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima.

THE top-two voting system worked well in this week's primary election.

By sending to the November ballot the top two vote-getters of whatever party, even the same party, the system gives voters better choices. In key races, it also gives minority-party voters a new influence.

Consider the 38th District, which includes Everett and the Tulalip Reservation. The district is heavily Democratic. The state senator, Democrat Jean Berkey, was challenged by Nick Harper, also a Democrat. Each raised about $30,000, but organized labor threw in $188,000 to knock out Berkey with negative ads. Meanwhile, a conservative Republican, Rod Rieger, ran with almost no money.

Primary results: Harper 35 percent, Berkey 33 percent and Rieger 31 percent. In the old way, the November ballot would be Harper, the top Democrat, versus Rieger, the top Republican. Rieger would have made the ballot because of the "R" next to his name, though he was the weakest of the three — and his voters would have no effect on the outcome.

In the new system, the two strongest candidates, Harper and Berkey, make the November ballot. The district's Republican voters have to accept a Democrat, but they have the deciding vote on which brand of Democrat.

In Yakima, the opposite happened. The 14th District is represented by Republican Rep. Norm Johnson. He got 45 percent of the vote, Republican Michelle Strobel got 34 percent, and Democrat Scott Brumback got 21 percent.

The new system offers November voters two Republicans — the incumbent favoring same-sex civil unions and his challenger opposing them. The district's Democrats will have to accept a Republican, but they will have the deciding vote on which brand of Republican.

That is shared power — and a good thing.

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