If Washington state’s new primary election system was a candidate it would’ve lost in a landslide. The majority of voters seemed peeved that the old blanket primary had been dumped, but predictions of a low turnout were overblown.
Now voters can decide whether they want to jettison the new system and replace it with one that restores cross-over voting in the primary. Initiative 872 would bring to Washington state a primary where voters can vote for whatever candidate they want, regardless of party affiliation.
Sounds good, so far.
But the catch – and it’s a big one – is that the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election, even if they come from the same party. That’s a big change. Moreover, candidates from the minor parties would not appear on the general election ballot unless they could finish among the top two in the primary.
A change to a top-two primary would give us a general election that is radically different from what Washington state voters are used to. Is that tradeoff worth it? We don’t think so, but, according to early polling, most people seem to favor the proposed system.
We think its popularity would quickly plummet the first time a Democrat faces a Democrat or a Republican faces a Republican in a general election.
The Washington State Grange is behind I-872. The Grange was also responsible for the state’s adoption of the blanket primary nearly 70 years ago. We think that has led some people to believe that the old system will be restored. It will not. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.
Anger about that has been directed at our current system, which requires voters to select one party’s ballot in the primary and prohibits cross-over voting. The general election was unchanged.
I-872 asks voters to change the general election to fix the primary. We think the general election is more important because more voters participate. I-872 proponents argue that their primary system will force candidates to appeal to a wider range of voters, and thus will produce more moderate candidates. Whether moderate candidates are inherently better is debatable, but we think the general election should provide distinct choices. A race between two moderate candidates from the same party won’t do that.
Ultimately, Washington state voters have to decide whether they are so uniquely independent that they need to adopt a system no other state has (it would not be identical to Louisiana’s). Citizens of Montana, Idaho and Oregon also brag of their states’ independent backgrounds, but they don’t complain about picking a party’s ballot in the primary.
The blanket primary is gone. I-872 isn’t going to bring it back. In fact, we think that the cure is worse than the malady.
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