Do not put burden of electing party officials back on taxpayers
After a federal judge ruled it was unconstitutional for party official races to be included on Washington state's top-two primary ballot, some state lawmakers seem willing to find a way to keep taxpayers paying for this private enterprise. They should reconsider.
MEMBERS of the two state legislative committees that oversee elections spent about 90 minutes Friday considering how to ensure state political parties could have access to the public ballots to elect their officials.
It was an astounding exercise, given that very few candidates run for precinct committee officer and that counties, which run elections, are facing severe budget circumstances. Public agencies should not be running public elections for private organizations at public expense.
Earlier this year, a federal district judge ruled it was unconstitutional for PCO races to be included on the state's top-two primary because it violated the parties' right to free association. The voter-established primary, which Judge John Coughenour upheld in the same ruling, advances the top two vote-getters to the general election, no matter their party.
Essentially, the ruling freed county election officials from the burden of running PCO elections, which have added immensely to the complexity and cost of elections.
That last point is important: While school districts, cities and other jurisdictions must pay the county their share of election costs, the state political parties have been mopping off taxpayers for decades. They pay exactly nothing.
Further, very few PCO races draw even one candidate.
Here are some eye-opening facts from the Secretary of State's Office about the 2010 primary election:
• In 66 percent of the 13,517 PCO elections statewide (half for Republican offices and half for Democratic), no one filed.
• In 32 percent of races, only one candidate filed.
• In only 2.6 percent of those positions — or 346 out of 13,517 — was there more than one candidate, making it a contested race.
So, what's the point?
Bills discussed at the hearing would still put these private organization's elections on a public, but separate, ballot. At least the proposals would not require election officials to include races with no candidates or that are uncontested. But still there would be a cost — almost $180,000 if they are run every two years, or $360,000 over four years.
Given the state's dire financial circumstances — a $1.4 billion deficit in the current biennium — it is astonishing lawmakers are even considering accommodating the political parties.
The parties are private organizations. Electing party officials should be the parties' responsibility, not that of county election officials. Party officials should be selected at party expense, not using the public's super-squeezed resources.