Congratulations, Washington voters, your top-two primary is constitutional
A federal judge ruled Washington state's top-two primary was constitutional as implemented. The state's major political parties, which are threatening an appeal, should let the people have the primary they embraced in a 2004 initiative.
A FEDERAL judge made official on Tuesday what all of Washington state voters know: The state's new top two primary is not confusing at all and therefore constitutional.
With his Tuesday ruling, Judge John C. Coughenour dealt the latest blow to the state political parties' effort to seize control of the primary for their own purposes, namely party building and limiting voter choices. Predictably, officials for both the state's major parties were undeterred, saying they are considering appealing the decision.
This issue already has been to the U.S. Supreme Court and back. Voters have had to hold their nose and vote in a closed primary in 2004, although many disgruntled voters scribbled editorial comments on their ballots. A few weeks later they handily embraced Initiative 872, which created the top-two primary, a qualifying primary that advances the top two vote-getters, no matter their party.
The state parties should let it go and let the people have the primary they want.
Party machinations aside, Coughenour's ruling is one to celebrate. Thanks go to the initiative sponsor, the Washington Grange, Secretary of State Sam Reed, who championed preserving voters choice for more than a decade, and state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who successfully defended the people's primary before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court ruled 7-2 the state should be able to give the top-two primary a try, but left the door open for the parties to raise questions about how it was implemented.
The judge's ruling kicked the tires and said it worked just fine. However, he did say the practice of running the parties' precinct committee officer elections on the public ballot was problematic. One solution: Have the parties — private organizations to be sure — run their own elections at their own expense.
The top-two primary is the primary that works, that voters want and that is constitutional. The parties should leave it alone.