Editorials

Parties keep slogging against peoples' wishes

So far, the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have held off the foolish tactics of the state's political parties.

But the parties keep on slogging.

The most recent evidence is the threat by Republican and Democratic party officials to appeal U.S. District Judge John Coughenour's ruling in Seattle that the state's "top-two" primary election system is constitutional.

The parties' lawyers think (or at least, they argue) that the state's voters aren't quite smart enough to figure out that designations like "Prefers Democrat" or "Prefers GOP" don't necessarily indicate an official endorsement from party leaders.

Older Washingtonians will remember the old open primary -- a great favorite of the voters.

In those days not so long ago, voters on primary day were given a ballot with all the candidates' names and party affiliations on them. The voters could choose one candidate per race without regard to party.

It was a matter of picking your favorites, until party leaders won their lawsuit against that system.

And for a while, state voters who wanted to participate in primary elections had to declare affiliation to one party or another, then pick from that party's candidates in every race.

Signing up with a particular political party makes you the target at election time of scads of pleas for money. Mostly while you're eating dinner.

But the problem goes beyond any nuisance factor, of course. Washingtonians did not, and most still do not, like to be told they have to join a party to vote. We prefer to vote for the best candidate, even in the primary.

And we can under the top-two primary system. Best of all, the top-two system doesn't violate the constitutional rights of the political parties. That's what the nation's top jurists have repeatedly found.

Even so, the parties continue to argue that primaries are for the parties, not the people, and apparently not for the candidates either.

But instead, with the leadership of Secretary of State Sam Reid and the Washington Grange, voters approved the system we have now. You don't have to declare a party and you can vote for whom you want in the primaries.

According to Susan Gilmore of the Seattle Times, "This latest challenge was focused on whether the Washington ballot was confusing to voters.

"The political parties argued the ballot is unconstitutional because candidates can claim that they prefer a particular party even if that party doesn't back them.

"But Coughenour said the way the Washington ballots are laid out 'eliminates the possibility of widespread confusion among the reasonable, well-informed electorate,' " she wrote.

Attorneys for both major parties said they expected to appeal.

Maybe they will get past the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals again, but they should expect a tough fight if they return to the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the original case was heard, a 7-2 majority ruled for the top-two primary ballot as we have it now.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said overturning the "top-two" primary would be an "extraordinary and precipitous nullification of the will of the people."

He had that right.

Still, on slog the parties.

They're looking very bull-headed.

Or, maybe they enjoy the attention, even if it's in the form of ridicule.

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