Bipartisan bungling lands two top parties in top-two primary

In the aftermath of a sometimes contentious legislative session, Ken Vogel reports in The News Tribune today on a heartwarming display of bipartisanship… plans by the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties to reach out across the aisle(s), join hands, and sue the state in federal court to scrap the “Louisiana style” Top-Two primary system enacted by Initiative 872 last November.

Rarely does an issue serve to bring political foes so close together: Democrats and Republicans, Paul Berendt and Chris Vance… Goldy and the Snark?!

Yeah, that’s right… both Stefan and I came out against I-872, and rather strongly. Stefan called it a “dumb idea,” cogently arguing that it would weaken parties.

Those who don’t like political parties might think this is an attractive outcome, but bear in mind that parties provide important services to the democratic process (that’s why all democracies have them). These services include: organization, fund-raising, coalition-building, candidate recruitment and training, and most importantly the development of stands on issues and the ability to help voters identify candidates with a particular set of positions. If the parties wither away, other institutions will step in to fill the void.

Yeah, um… like the BIAW. Just look at their influence in the so-called “nonpartisan” race for the Supreme Court, where they single-handedly got Jim Johnson elected to the bench. And as Stefan explains:

In the absence of party organizations that tie candidates to platforms and identifiable coalitions of interest groups, elections will degenerate even more than they are into personality contests. Candidates who already have, or can purchase name recognition will have an even greater advantage than they have today: incumbents, wealthy individuals, moneyed interests and celebrities will all come away with even greater advantages than they have today. So will those who control media organizations and would be in an even stronger position to promote their favorite candidates.

Of course, the tool that he is, Stefan might just have been acting as a mouthpiece for his GOP overlords, but I choose to take him at his word (as long as it suits my purpose.)

In my own pre-election endorsements, my stated opposition to I-872 was decidedly more blunt:

“Waaahhhh! I want my blanket primary!”

That’s pretty much what voters and editorialists have been crying ever since the Supreme Court threw out Washington’s odd “blanket” or “open” primary.

Well get over it!

Besides, contrary to popular belief, I-872 does NOT restore the blanket primary… instead it replaces it with the equally odd but decidedly more stupid “Louisiana-style” top-two primary. Yes, I-872 gives you more choice in the primary, but it does so by giving you less choice in the general election… and that, after all, is when the majority of people actually vote.

I always felt reducing choice in the general election was the most compelling argument against top-two, but it would inevitably reduce choice in the primary as well. As it stands, Vance strongly discourages primary challenges in key statewide races (I don’t call him “GOPolitburo Chair” for nothing,) and the top-two format only serves to incentivize this antidemocratic trend towards strict party unity. For example, Democratic runner-up Mark Sidran nearly out-polled Rob McKenna in the September primary. If this had been a top-two primary, and McKenna had faced a serious challenger, only Sidran and Deborah Senn would have made it to the November ballot.

As the TNT reports, the parties understand this, and that is why they are planning to opt out of the primary system while they wait for their lawsuit to wend its way through the courts.

In the meantime, in the eight counties holding partisan elections this fall, the parties are trying to bypass the September primary, the first one under the new Top Two system. Instead, they’re pledging to use caucuses and conventions in which party activists pick candidates.

“That’s not what the voters thought they were voting for,” said Chris Vance, the state Republican Party chairman.

Yeah, no kidding Chris.

This maneuver will likely spark a second lawsuit. The state GOP has sent a letter to King County Elections:

“Only the candidates nominated by the Republican Party will be eligible to use the Republican name in the September primary,” the letter reads.

Not so, said King County elections director Dean Logan. He plans to send a response this week stating that anyone who files to run as a Republican will appear on the primary ballot as such.

As soon as Logan puts his decision in writing, Vance plans to sue King County, arguing the top-two violates his party’s First Amendment right to associate… and both the Democrats and Libertarians plan to join in. They will ask the court to reinstate the Montana-style system, or at the very least, allow the parties to chose their nominees via convention or caucus.

What I find most fascinating about this whole issue is that despite their rare show of bipartisan unity and cooperation, the parties have managed to blunder their way into the current disaster. The old blanket primary is probably starting to look pretty good to Berendt and Vance right about now.

Don’t get me wrong… I thought the old primary sucked. An open primary is an oxymoronic method for a party to choose its nominees, and ridiculously susceptible to gaming the system with cross-over votes for weak candidates. I should know: I’m an unrepentant Ellen Craswell and John Carlson voter.

But while I was as happy as anybody to see the old system tossed, you’d think the geniuses who challenged its constitutionality might have thought a little bit ahead about what might replace it. Was it really so hard to imagine that in a state that routinely uses the initiative process to send a big “Fuck You” to Olympia, the electorate might finger the party bosses with something worse?

If anything, this whole debacle just serves to prove the value of divisive, partisan politics. After all, just look at the shit they get themselves into when the parties are in total agreement.


  1. 1

    Alan spews:

    I think the courts will strike down the Top-Two, but if they don’t, given that the U.S. Supreme Court’s blanket primary ruling in the California case (which the 9th Circuit applied to Washington’s blanket primary) was based on the free association clause, I would certainly expect the courts to uphold the parties’ right to limit use of their party labels by candidates.

  2. 2

    David spews:

    Goldy, you wrote that “the parties . . . are planning to opt out of the primary system” by use of conventions and caucuses. That’s fine and dandy—the parties are welcome to choose their own favorite candidates—but even if the party representative is chosen that way, doesn’t he or she still have to win (or come in 2nd) in the primary in order to appear on the general election ballot? Opting out really isn’t an option.

  3. 3

    David spews:

    I think it’s an interesting conundrum, whether the parties’ free association rights (to choose who represents them, and show that on the ballot) trump individual candidates’ free association and free speech rights (to indicate their party affiliation, whether or not they’re the party’s favored choice). Maybe it could be avoided entirely, though, if elections officials designed a ballot that indicates both each candidate’s party membership and each party’s choice of candidate.

  4. 4

    David spews:

    …i.e., to distinguish between “I am a Republican candidate” and “I am the Republican candidate,” or between “I am a Democrat, and a candidate for office” and “I am the Democrats’ candidate for office.” An “R” or a “D” next to the candidate’s name isn’t clear enough any more.

  5. 5

    David spews:

    But if the parties succeed in knocking out the top-two primary system, maybe we can use it as an opportunity to enact Instant Runoff Voting instead. Primaries . . . who needs ‘em?

  6. 7

    Goldy spews:

    David… I’m not really sure how this will all work out. Here’s a scenario… the D’s and R’s choose Ron Sims and David Irons as their candidates for KC executive, via county conventions. But a couple jerks like me run in the primary as Republicans, asking Democrats to cross over and elect us. So now there will be Sims, Irons and two other “Republicans” on the November ballot?

    This is a mess.

  7. 8

    VRWC spews:

    I am for blanket primaries. But if the parties themselves insist that we do not have such, then please let THEM pay for the cost of the elections. After all they are “party affairs” and as such no public monies should be expended deciding internal party affairs.

  8. 9


    Frankly, the smart move for Paul would’ve been to let the GOP go forward with all the law suits. It’s time to check your self when you find yourself on the same side of a lawsuit as the GOP (IMHO).

    Think of how much better this would’ve played out if Paul had just allowed the GOP to go forward alone. Paul would’ve saved the Dems money, and kept them out of the mess that this is turning into right now, and the outcome would’ve stayed the same. The average non-partisan voter is pissed at the parties right now (hell, even people who are involved with the party are getting irritated at them).

  9. 11

    ivan spews:

    Chardonnay @ 10:

    Bet you $200 in hard cold cash. Put up or shut up. You want to hold the money, Goldy?

  10. 12

    Alan spews:

    VRWC @ 8

    This is not a matter of the parties insisting that we do not have blanket primaries. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled blanket primaries are unconstitutional. That ends the discussion. Blanket primaries are gone, will not come back, and it’s pointless to wish for their return. What we should be discussing is what will replace them.

    Personally, I think the top-two system sucks. You could end up having to choose between two Republicans — or two Democrats. And forget about being able to vote for a Libertarian, Reform Party, or other third-party candidate — protest votes against the two major parties will become a thing of the past.

  11. 13

    Alan spews:

    willis @ 9

    I can’t agree with you. That would give the GOP complete control over the litigation, and you’d better believe they would try to manipulate it to the Democrats’ disadvantage. The Democratic Party HAS to be involved in this litigation to protect their own interests.

  12. 15

    Wayne spews:

    Berendt and Vance are both hacks and embarassments to their respective parties. Every time I hear Berendt I cringe and Vance reminds me of Baghdad Bob.

  13. 17

    Stop the whistling spews:

    My biggest question is this: If our original primary was so ‘unconstitutional’ as they claim, why did it take them so long to find it out? And if it was an excuse to change it, WHO WAS TO

  14. 19

    Stop the whistling spews:

    Dan @ 6–Of COURSE they are all over Germany–and probably soon to be in France and North Korea and Iran and on the desk of every UN representative and…..Oh, and Syria, too. Did I forget anyone? Have you gotten yours yet? Did you know any of the flies personally?

    Of course the above-mentioned countries are all full of it anyway, so no big change.

  15. 20

    David spews:

    Goldy hypothesizes:

    a couple jerks like me run in the primary as Republicans, asking Democrats to cross over and elect us. So now there will be Sims, Irons and two other “Republicans” on the November ballot?

    Er, no, there will be Sims, Irons and two other “jerks” on the September ballot. And it wouldn’t matter if you joined the Republican party to get an “R” by your name, except to confuse people who thought they knew you. It’s an open primary—even more open than the old blanket primary—and crossover votes won’t make a difference unless the recipient of those crossover votes comes out 1st or 2nd.

    Think about it. Say Sims gets the bulk of the Democrat vote, and Irons gets the bulk of the Republican vote. Sims and Irons will go on to the general election unless you or your friend actually outpoll one of them (which I’ll submit is less likely if you’re calling yourself a Republican). And if more people would rather elect you than Sims or Irons, what’s the problem with that?

  16. 21

    Stop the whistling spews:

    Char @ 10–I have to disagree with you. After all, cream isn’t the only thing that floats, if you catch my drift.

  17. 23

    Alan spews:

    whistler @ 17 & 18

    The parties benefit from it. They didn’t want the supporters of an opposing party choosing their candidates.

  18. 25

    Stop the whistling spews:

    Alan @ 23–Okay, I may be missing something here, so I am willing to listen to your explanation.

  19. 26

    jsa on beacon hill spews:

    The first election I was able to vote in was 1988. I went to the Republican caucus and proudly stated my preference for Pat Robertson. My neighbors (and my Mom, bless her) were annoyed. Pat took no delegates from my precinct, but won the state.

    The next year, the caucuses were abandoned in place of a primary, precisely so that an organized group of people, and the saboteurs that help them could not overwhelm the party regulars.

    I didn’t think much of primaries then, and still don’t think much of them, and not because I want to sabotage the GOP. First, it was a stupid prank done by a rather arrogant kid. Second, there’s nothing I could do today that the GOP doesn’t willingly do to itself.

    Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying that “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, I agree.

    People vote for candidates for some of the worst reasons imaginable. Some (not all) Republicans voted for Bush because he was a man of faith. Whether his policies were good or bad had nothing to do with it.

    Many (if not most!) Democrats voted for Kerry simply because they despised Bush and would rather if a dog occupied the Oval Office. When you’d rather have a dog, under democracy, a dog is exactly what you will get.

    The primary system guarantees that pretty much the entire election cycle past a little bit of initial fund-raising is nothing but shallow retail politics. At no point in time are grownups allowed to sit down and discuss who would be a better candidate. It’s one endless string of sound-bites, TV ads, and yep, lots and lots and lots of fund-raising. Most of it from people who aren’t very much like you or me.

    At least the caucus system is inclusive. Anyone who WANTS to take an evening to debate can. Most democracies don’t even do that. Commonwealth leadership meetings (i.e. England, Canada, Australia, etc.) are open only to card-carrying party faithful.

    Finally, in general, the primaries deliver the worst form of candidates. Since the person who is selected as the standard bearer is the one who does the best TV presentation, we generally get pleasant, photogenic, milquetoast candidates. It makes for boring politics, and it’s bad for the state and the country.

    Now and then, the process works in spite of itself. Let this dog die.

  20. 27

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Moronic danw tried to make an argument at SoundPolitics that Goldy’s Blog is much more widespread influential based on the number of POSTS.
    What a f***ing idiot.
    DonSux/Alan/20 other names puts up half the posts!

  21. 28

    robbed spews:

    11. ivan the terrible:

    having a leftie like Goldie hold the money is kissing cash goodbye. hold your money, char

  22. 29

    Stop the whistling spews:

    Goldy says: “I should know: I’m an unrepentant Ellen Craswell and John Carlson voter.”

    Well, there may be hope for you after all.

  23. 31

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    The voice of freedon, Seattle Tass/HorsesTass errr…Seattle P-I has yet to post even 1 single tidbit about Logan’s deposition.

    I understand Huennekens deposition also has some important revelations and contradictions of his boss-man, Weird Al Yankovic lookalike!

    The Abbott & Costello of elections are FAR from finsihed as witnesses in this election contest…trust me.
    Their depositions created more questions than answers.

    Watch Pinheads!

  24. 32

    Stop the whistling spews:

    jsa @ 26—Wellsaid and I agree on most points.

    A friend of mine (republican) was curious what went on at Democratic conventions, so he went. He said most there were discussing fishing, golfing and BBQ’s, etc. None were really talking over who should be nominated. He made a point to find out who was asking for the nomination and what they stood for. He was shocked when HE was chosen to DO the nominating–all because he showed so much interest! None of them asked his leanings. They assumed he was like them. He nominated the one he felt had his head on the straightest and was immediately booed by all the fishermen, golfers and backyard cooks present. So much for their concern who they ask to nominate and even what their own candidates stand for, I guess. If there is some rhyme or reason to this method, please enlighten me–signed Confused and Befuddled.

  25. 34

    jsa on beacon hill spews:

    Stop the whistling @ 32:

    * shrugs * Every precinct is different.

    I have attended exactly one Republican caucus in my life. I found the people there (except me), to be sincere, well-meaning, and generally interested in the policies of the Republican party.

    I have attended three Democratic Caucuses in my life, two in Taiwan, one here in Washington. Obviously, Taiwan and Washington voters have somewhat different interests (Democrats in Taiwan think a lot about foreign policy and nuclear proliferation issues. Democrats in Washington think a lot about choice, whether the party should be more centerist or radical, and which candidates policies will best represent the party in November.

    I frankly cannot say I recall a single discussion coming up about fishing, golfing, or BBQ, or in fact anything other than Democratic politics.

    I suspect 1996 was kind of a snooze. The candidate was known, the planks were well understood. If there was a party meeting, I can imagine how people would have killed time talking about barbeque.

    We in Taiwan were having missiles fired at us, so I recall people were probably not quite as complacent as our brethren Stateside.

  26. 37

    Alan spews:

    whistler @ 32

    Your story sounds fishy to me. I’ve been to many Democratic caucuses and conventions, and they were all businesslike, and the attendees/delegates always took great interest in discussing issues at great length.

  27. 38

    DamnageD spews:

    Damn Mr.C, haven’t been here all day and start off with both barrels! Damn near totally name calling free, but now its back to the playground. I certantly hope you don’t practice that around your children too.

  28. 39

    Richard Pope spews:

    There is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about having a “Top Two” system. We have used the “Top Two” system for many, many decades to elect (a) all judicial officers, (b) all city officials, (c) all school district officials, (d) all fire, water and sewer district officials, (e) all cemetery, hospital, and other special district officials, and (f) certain officials designated as non-partisan in charter counties. Of course, in none of the above races are candidates allowed to put a party name on the ballot.

    The only thing different about the “Top Two” system for partisan offices is that candidates for these offices are allowed to put a party name on the ballot. Just like they were able to do in the party ballot primary system we used in 2004.

    The parties didn’t object to anyone claiming to be a member of their party and filing for any office they wanted to in a party ballot primary system. For example, someone like Goldy could have claimed to be a Republican and filed for some office that no other Republican wanted to file for — such as State Auditor. Goldy would have then automatically become the GOP nominee for State Auditor, and been free to use his 200 word voter pamphlet statement to criticize President Bush — and even list Horse’s Ass as the campaign website.

    If Vance didn’t think Goldy was really a Republican, then the First Amendment rights of true Republicans would have been violated by allowing him to file without Vance’s permission. Fortunately Goldy did not do this, and Vance was able to hand-pick a “real” Republican of his choice — a man of true conviction(s) — Will Baker — to carry the party banner. Baker was able to use his voter pamphlet statement to criticize the FBI for covering up the murder of Crystal Brame.

    So much for all the hot air emanating from Chris Vance about how the First Amendment rights of political parties are violated when anyone can claim to be a Democrat or Republican and run for public office as such, whether or not they have the blessing of the state party boss.

    But if this self-selection of party label on the ballot is a problem, then the best solution would be to prohibit ANYONE from using that party’s name on the ballot. So if the Democrats want to restrict who can file for office as a Democrat, then no one should be allowed to file for office as a Democrat. Same for the Republicans and any other party who wishes to do that.

    That way, anyone can still file for office, but their party affiliation won’t appear if their party wants to restrict use of it by candidates. The party would still be able to endorse a candidate, and urge its supporters to vote for that person in the primary (as well as the general, if they advance in the top two).

  29. 40

    Alan spews:

    whistling @ 25

    You can find background on the blanket primary on the SOS’s web site:

    Briefly, the Legislature adopted the blanket primary in 1935 in response to a popular referendum. It was immediately challenged but the state supreme court upheld it. The GOP challenged it again in 1978, but this challenge also failed in the state supreme court. For many years, Washington was the only state with a blanket primary, but in 1996, California voters adopted a similar primary which was challenged in the federal courts and overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Virtually all of Washington’s political parties then joined forces to challenge Washington’s blanket primary in federal court, and the Ninth Circuit, following the SCOTUS precedent in the California case, declared it unconstitutional.

  30. 41

    Erik spews:

    I like the idea of the instant run off. In that system, you can enter your first and second choice and don’t have to worry about “wasting your vote.” However, it different than the top two system.

    (41 continual posts on topic? Impressive)

  31. 42

    middleoftheroader spews:

    The constitutionality argument against the new primary is totally bogus. There is no right in the constitution that states that a political party can choose its nominees. Parties are not included in the form of government. The new primary is really a two-stage general election. The top-two winners in round one face each other in round two. That is all that will go on. Nothing more – nothing less. if a party were to endorse a candidate, it would have the same effect as me, a former governor, or Joe Sixpack endorsing a candidate. Voters can deal with those endorsements as they please.

    I repeat, there are no grounds that the state cannot eliminate parties from the system of elections. And then, what is the big deal if parties vanish from the political landscape – is it that partisan bloggers can not march in step with the state or federal party leaders. Will political bloggers have to find real information instead of relying on partisan talking points. Really, do we want to defend political parties as they exist today? Realize that political parties are merely well funded interest groups bent on winning elections at all costs, and there is little rational to support them (or to believe that they are entitled to more rights than other interest organizations).

  32. 43

    Erik spews:

    The constitutionality argument against the new primary is totally bogus. There is no right in the constitution that states that a political party can choose its nominees.

    I am not sure that this is true.

    I kind of like the newest election system. I don’t know if its too bad.

    Re-read the court’s last decision on the matter and let us know what you think. I think one of the court’s ruling is that the parties do get some control as to who claims membership in them.

    I guess anyone can run as an independent and get a first or second finish. However, I think there are limitations on anyone getting to run with a party label if the party does not believe the label is appropriate.

  33. 45

    One Eyed Man is King spews:

    Alan @ 37–If there is one thing my friend is, almost to a fault, it is honest. There is nothing fishy about it. I think you are fortunate to have gone to good ones, that is all.

  34. 46

    Stop the Whistling spews:

    Sorry about the identity switch @ 45–My son tagged in and I didn’t notice before I responded.

  35. 47

    Richard Pope spews:

    Well, it would have been funny if Goldy had filed for State Auditor last year — as a Republican. He could have promised to use the resources of his office to audit Enron, Halliburton, the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority, etc. etc. AND published this in his voter pamphlet statement. Listed Horse’s Ass as his campaign website. Gotten tremendous publicity for himself.

    And Chris Vance would have looked like an even bigger dumbass by letting a Democrat such as Goldy become the GOP nominee for an important statewide office (simply because no real Republican filed), than he did by specially appointing a nutcase like Will Baker to file after the normal filing period expired.

    The argument that a political party somehow “loses” the right to pick its own “nominees” really gets deflated when a party doesn’t choose to have a “nominee” in the first place, or happens to pick a total nutcase as its “nominee” when it has the chance to do so.

    Let the parties have their caucuses, conventions and endorsement meetings. Let anyone claim to be a Democrat, Republican or whatever when they file. If people really care about the party endorsements, then they will vote for the person the party endorses, and that person might make it to the top two for the general election. If not, then it simply shows that the party doesn’t have that much influence on the voters.

  36. 48

    DamnageD spews:

    @ 44

    …something i bet you have plenty of experinece in, huh? Especially with all that sand in your crotch.

  37. 49

    Steve Strong spews:

    I thought the Republicans had good reasons, or sincerely believed they had good reasons to want to get rid of the blanket primary, since it brought them Ellen Craswell. The only reason the Democrats had to attack it was some sort of principled self-destruction. The Democrats apparently wanted to make the voters in its primary less moderate, and moderation has been the basis for its success. When Gary Locke vetoed the blanket’s replacement, the top two, he gave us the election mess we are still in, since Ruth Bennett wouldn’t have been on the ballot if there were top-two primary and Gregoire would have won by thousands of votes. Both parties are led by nitwits if they attack the top-two primary, since their “constitutional” objection would consist of having party labels accompany the primary candidates without Chris Vance’s or other party leaders’ consent. The upshot, if that objection were successful, would not be the closed primary they desire, but the Nebraska primary, which is top two without any party labels, like city council elections in Washington. The parties would thus become even more irrelevant.

  38. 50

    Alan spews:

    middle @ 42

    By your logic, the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to you because you’re not mentioned in the constitution. Not!

    If the constitutionality argument persuades the courts, it will hardly be “bogus,” it will be the law of the land.

    whistler @ 45

    Nevertheless, this is not based on your personal knowledge; it’s hearsay.

    Richard Pope @ 47

    I tend not to waste my time on philosophical arguments that have already been rejected by the courts; but for what it’s worth, I don’t see why the courts’ logic of agreeing with the parties that they don’t have to let Goldy run as a “Republican” or let LaRouchies run as “Democrats” escapes your comprehension.

    Steve @ 49

    A non-legal, non-rational, non-factual argument that has nothing to do with reality and does not merit a reply.

  39. 51

    chardonnay spews:

    will Hillary be the Felon candidate for Prez in 08?

    Hillary followed every dime in her campaign, personally calling donors for most of it. How could she possibly not have known of a decision that saved her $800,000?

    But the person who knows if she knew is David Rosen. If found guilty, he faces a potential sentence of 15 years. If the feds threaten him with jail — and it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t —Rosen faces a choice: Tell the truth or go to prison.

  40. 52

    Alan spews:

    charred brain cells @ 51

    “Hillary followed every dime in her campaign, personally calling donors for most of it.”

    Hillary’s an amazing woman — she would need 300 pairs of hands and ears to do this all by herself.

  41. 53

    David spews:

    Steve @ 49: Good point—i.e., “be careful what you wish for.” If the Republicans, Democrats, et al. sue the state over the top-two primary (objecting to candidates listing themselves as belonging to a party even if they’re not nominated by that party), they might end up with a completely non-partisan ballot instead of getting exactly what they want.

    Alan @ 50: Too much coffee today? Calm down, man.