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Wednesday, March 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Legislature 2004
Senators leery about acting on primary bill

By Seattle Times staff

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OLYMPIA — State Senate leaders, worried about a possible veto by Gov. Gary Locke, said yesterday they're hesitant to move ahead with a Louisiana-style primary system that would let voters cast ballots for any candidate and would send the top two finishers to the general election.

Both the House and Senate have approved a primary modeled after Louisiana's system, but the House on Monday tagged on an amendment requiring the state to revert to a much-different system patterned after Montana's if the Louisiana plan doesn't pass muster in court.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, and other lawmakers who support the Louisiana model said they're worried Locke may veto that part of the bill and put in place the Montana primary system.

The Montana system requires that voters pick one party's ballot for the primary, but no record is kept of their party choice.

Locke has strongly opposed a Louisiana-style primary, but so far he hasn't said whether he'd use his veto. To clear the way for final passage in the Senate, Finkbeiner wants Locke to say he won't veto the Louisiana plan.

Other options being considered by the Senate include working with the House to change the legislation so Locke could not veto the Louisiana primary.

The Legislature must create a primary system because U.S. courts have outlawed Washington's 68-year-old blanket primary. That system allowed people to vote for any candidate, regardless of party, on the same ballot and didn't require registration by party. The state's parties sued to get rid of the blanket primary.

Republican and Democratic party officials have said they'll fight the state in court if the Louisiana-style system is adopted. They argue that it strips the parties of their constitutional right to decide who may carry a party banner.


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