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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Precinct officers keep their spots

A federal judge's ruling that Washington state's way of electing precinct committee officers is unconstitutional may have some wondering about the ones elected last August.

Precinct committee officers, or PCOs as they are usually called, are the backbone of county party organizations. They pick the county chairman or chairwoman, vice chairman/woman, state committeeman and committeewoman and the legislative district leaders. When a vacancy occurs in a legislative or county elective seat, they nominate a replacement.

Which 4th Legislative District PCOs are scheduled to  do this weekend to fill the state Senate seat left open by Sen. Bob McCaslin's retirement.

But U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled yesterday in Seattle that they way the state currently elects PCOs is unconstitutional. They are elected on the Top Two primary ballot in even numbered years, but the Top Two is an election in which the other candidates for partisan office merely state their party preference and the winners are not considered the nominees of their preferred parties. (Want to read the entire order? Click here.)

That's fine for other offices, because voters can reasonably understand that those candidates aren't necessarily members of, or endorsed by, the parties for which the list a preference, Coughenour said. But the PCOs are party officials, not really public officials and the parties have a right to expect that only party members elect party officials. There's no way to ensure that under the current system.

But Coughenour's ruling is propsective, Katie Blinn of the Washington Secretary of State's office said. "He didn't speak at all retrospectively. He is simply stating that going into the future, the state can't continue doing it t his way."

It's likely a bill or two might find its way to the Legislature with a plan to fix this problem. But for right now, the 4th District PCOs are legally entitled to nominate replacements for McCaslin.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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