May 11, 2005 in Opinion

It’s the people who count

The Spokesman-Review
 

The following editorial appeared Tuesday in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin:

Last fall voters adopted a new way to conduct primary elections. Instead of having the top vote-getter from each party move on to the general election as was done in the past, the top-two vote-getters regardless of party will now square off.

The change was made not because voters were unhappy with the previous system, but because the state’s political parties — Republican, Democratic and Libertarian — sued to have the old system ruled unconstitutional. The parties didn’t like the fact that party registration isn’t a requirement to vote in primaries and that voters could cross party lines when casting their ballots.

Ultimately, the parties prevailed on the grounds that when an election takes place to pick a party’s nominee, the party can control who votes as mandated by the free association clause of the Constitution.

The voters of Washington were — understandably — outraged. Washingtonians are independent minded and the idea that they had to pick one party and stick with it didn’t set well.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, understood the public’s concern and backed a plan to go around the parties — the top-two plan, which voters adopted in November. Guess what? The party leaders aren’t happy. It has been reported that the Republican Party is considering filing a lawsuit and the Democrats are apparently cheering the GOP leaders on. What Republican (and Democratic) leaders want is to establish nominating conventions so that just one Republican and Democrat is on the primary ballot.

No. NO. NO!

The people, not the parties, pay for elections. Elections are held so the people can elect officials to run their government. Ultimately, it is up to the people — not the parties — how elections are conducted.

Yes, the political parties can still control who votes when elections are held to select the nominees of the political parties. But Washington’s primary election is no longer a nominating election for the parties, it is an election to determine finalists for the general election.

It’s for that reason we agree with Reed and other election experts who believe the top-two system will stand up to legal challenges. The bottom line is that parties didn’t like the old system, they sued to change it and they got what they wanted – a new system. And, perhaps, state party leaders also learned something. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.


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