OLYMPIA – A political party wants to keep Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan off Washington’s Nov. 6 general election ballot. And it’s not the Democratic Party.
The Libertarian Party of Washington argues in a lawsuit filed last week in Thurston County Superior Court that the GOP, like the LPWA, is not a “major party” under state law but a “minor party.” This isn’t a case of the parties comparing various parts of their anatomy, but a distinction in the law that decides how candidates for president make it on the ballot.
J. Mills, a former state LPWA chairman and the attorney filing the lawsuit, said it’s a matter of making everyone play by the same rules.
Kirby Wilbur, state GOP chairman, calls the lawsuit “a silly nuisance” and has no doubt Romney and Ryan will be on the ballot.
The lawsuit claims the GOP is not a major party because it didn’t have a candidate for statewide office who received at least 5 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election. Although Dino Rossi ran for the U.S. Senate that year, and got far more than that threshold, Mills argues he wasn’t a Republican under state law because he didn’t get the party’s nomination at its state convention.
Confused? Don’t feel bad. To understand where this came from and where it’s going, one has to remember back a few years, to the days before the Top 2 primary, when major parties automatically got their top vote-getter from a primary on the general election ballot and when minor party candidates skipped the primary, were nominated by a convention and submitted petitions to get on the November ballot.
The statutes that set up that old system, known as “Pick-A-Party,” remain on the books even though that system isn’t used.
There’s no doubt Rossi’s a Republican. He was elected to the Legislature as a Republican, ran twice for governor as a Republican. But in 2010, he was locked in a contest with Clint Didier, the Senate primary was several months off and the state GOP convention wasn’t asked to pick a nominee.
Mills contends that means Rossi didn’t meet the legal definition of a Republican candidate in the 2010 election in the only statewide race that year, so the Washington GOP became a minor party.
As a minor party, the Republicans would have to gather 1,000 signatures from state residents asking to place their presidential candidate on the ballot. Six minor parties, Libertarians included, did that by the Aug. 3 deadline. Republicans didn’t, so they don’t get a presidential spot on the ballot and should have to run Romney-Ryan as write-ins, Mills says.
Horsepuckies, says Wilbur: “The idea that a major party candidate for president would not be on Washington state’s ballot is absurd.”
The party’s State Committee nominated Rossi, and all the other Republicans who made it through the 2010 primary, at a meeting late that summer, Wilbur said. The party’s attorneys have talked with GOP leaders and Romney campaign attorneys and aren’t worried.
Katie Blinn, co-director of state elections, also believes Romney qualifies for the ballot, even though the State Committee’s endorsements and nominations don’t really matter to the state.
The statutes Mills cites in his lawsuit are on the books but “are not good law” because the state no longer has the Pick-A-Party system, she said.
The only true partisan election in Washington these days is for president, Blinn said. Because of that, the marker for qualifying as a major party was the presidential race in 2008, not the U.S. Senate race in 2010. In 2008, bona fide Republican presidential candidate John McCain got 40.5 percent of the vote, qualifying 2012 GOP nominees Romney and Ryan.
The secretary of state’s office has an administrative code spelling this out, Blinn said. Although Mills argues that an administrative code can’t override a statute, Blinn says the Pick-A-Party statutes were essentially repealed by an initiative so nothing is overridden.
All this will get an airing, possibly this week, in Thurston County Superior Court. Odds it will be an interesting hearing are pretty good. Odds Romney won’t be on the Washington ballot seem pretty slim, because even if a trial court supports Mills, the state and the GOP will appeal and some judge somewhere is likely to order the state to put Mitt and Paul on the ballot with Barack and Joe and the host of other candidates most voters have never heard of.
But even a temporary ruling in favor of the Libertarians would give Washington something it hasn’t had in months: attention from the national presidential campaigns that involves something other than a trip to the Seattle suburbs for a high-priced fundraiser.
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