Silly rules beget silly results

I agree with the Seattle Times editorial board in one respect, silly rules do beget silly results, but the ballot mockery they rail against really is as much their own fault as anybody’s.

[L]awmakers should find a way to close one gap in the law that allows candidates to make a mockery of the ballot. Current rules say a candidate can list political party preference below their name as anything that fits within 16 letters.

In the 2008 election, the net result was candidates who listed themselves as members of parties, such as “Prefers Salmon/Yoga Party” or “Prefers Cut Taxes G.O.P. Party.”

Neither are the names of real parties. Some candidates used the 16-character rule to create a campaign slogan, and in the process, ridiculed the ballot.

[…] The same rule allowed Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi to list “prefers G.O.P. Party,” probably because of the dire state of the Republican brand.

Yup, this sure does make a mockery of the ballot, but I think it worthwhile to point out that this mockery is entirely within the spirit of a top-two primary system that intentionally ridicules the party based system it seeks to replace.  In championing both the top-two primary and the move to “nonpartisan” elections in King County, the Times has repeatedly berated and belittled the rights of political parties and their longstanding role in the American political process—should it come as a surprise that others, without a printing press at their disposal, have chosen to echo this meme on the ballot itself?

(It is a curious irony that when the Chinese Communists trample the rights of political parties we rightly accuse them of being anti-democratic, but when we do the same here it is always in the name of more democracy. Huh.)

Of course I support the rule change the Times urges, but it merely lances a single oozing boil rather than addressing the underlying disease eating away at our body politic:  a profound disrespect for politics itself.  Even after the rule change a Republican could still claim “prefers Democratic Party” on the ballot rather than Dino Rossi’s more subtle deception, for as long as the parties are denied the basic right to officially identify or deny candidates as their own, party identification will remain entirely meaningless.

Parties and partisanship have long played a vital role in American democracy, as a means of institutionalizing dissent, and of encouraging a vigorous public debate.  In the long run, it is the Times and other defenders of civility, through their relentless undermining of a meaningful dialectic, who really make a mockery of our political process.


  1. 1

    Matty spews:

    “institutionalizing dissent”?

    Yeah, sure….as long as it’s one OR the other.

    The original system was better than this half-baked mess you and the R’s have gotten us into. You should have left well-enough alone and realized that Washington voters did get it and the wide open primary yielded more nuanced and mainstream candidates.

    When the D’s and R’s fought it out…they just polarized things further.

  2. 2

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Frank Blethen’s biggest advantage in the political arena is that he has a $150 million printing press at his disposal.

    Frank Blethen’s biggest disadvantage in the business arena is that he has a $150 million printing press hanging around his neck.

  3. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @1 Did you forget that the Republican-controlled Supreme Court created this mess?

  4. 4

    Moag spews:

    The political parties are NOT being repressed. All that has happened is that the government no longer enforces party control on the candidates and voters. In other words, the government has merely stopped doing something that once benefited the parties, especially the two major parties.

    Parties can still associate, organize, stand on their heads, or do anything else they feel like doing to support their favorite candidates. But now, candidates and voters are not locked into the choices that the parties decide are acceptable to be on the ballot.

  5. 5

    Matty spews:

    @3 It was the state R’s and D’s that rang the bell. The Supremes ruled accordingly and I trust their judgement was Constituionally sound. But because the state R’s and D’s wouldn’t leave it alone and tried to get their “party loyal only” method…..the public (via The Grange) responded and we got this half-baked Top Two version….so nobody gets what they want. The state parties could have better served all of Washington if they had left it alone.

  6. 6

    Chris Stefan spews:

    Blame California. The parties seemed to be content to leave well enough alone with our blanket party for a long time. Then the voters of California passed an initiative creating a blanket primary very similar to Washington’s. The parties in California sued. The SCOTUS said California’s version of the blanket primary was unconstitutional. The parties up here sued to get Washington’s blanket primary overturned.

    I’m fine with the current “top-two” system though I’d like to find a good way of keeping the party labels from being too silly. On the other hand I liked the old “blanket primary” just fine and didn’t have a big problem with the “Montana primary” we had in between either.

    I’m absolutely opposed to any form of official party registration or closed primary.

  7. 7

    Matty spews:

    Agreed California was a the first domino and party folks here jumped on the bandwagon. I miss our “wide open” primary and blame the party leaders….and I’m even in one of them at the local level…and told them it would end with an irritated public overall and they still wouldn’t get what they want. They killed a goose that was happy.

  8. 8

    proud leftist spews:

    I do not see what is wrong with political organizations–parties–being permitted to choose their candidates for office. Should Baptists get to choose the Pope? The Supreme Court should have left well enough alone.

  9. 9

    ROTCODDAM spews:

    “But now, candidates and voters are not locked into the choices that the parties decide are acceptable to be on the ballot.”

    I’ve always been perplexed by this sort of reasoning.

    Exactly which “voters” are being “locked” into something?
    The general election Democratic voters who chose their nominee in the partisan primary?
    The general election Republican voters who chose their nominee in the partisan primary?

    Or are these some other voters being “locked” into a narrower choice?

    Of course they are.

    They are the voters too lazy or indifferent to be bothered to vote in a partisan primary or to get involved in third party politics. They didn’t “choose” either of the two major party nominees, so they feel like they are being “locked” into a choice between them.

    Only thing is:
    What about all the Democratic voters and Republican voters who participated in the partisan primaries but whose chosen candidate did not win the primary?
    And what about all the “open, top-two” primary voters whose chosen candidates do not make it onto the “top-two” general election ballot?
    How are they any different?
    How are they any less “locked” into a choice they didn’t make?

    This isn’t like modern suburban little league sports. Somebody has to lose. And usually everyone has to compromise. The “open, top-two” primary system merely offers the illusion of more choice, to placate the intellectually lazy, politically unsophisticated, modern “entitled” consumer.

    One way or another our choices are narrowed. Otherwise, why bother to even hold a primary election in the first place? Spoiled, grumpy, immature brats will still be “locked into choices” made by other people. That’s how politics works.
    Majorities make choices that bind all. No sixteen letter game of “make believe” party designation on primary ballots is ever going to change that.

  10. 10

    Richard Pope spews:

    Here my solution:

    1. Require REAL political parties to designate ONE official name for that party on the ballot.

    2. Candidates can choose whichever party they want, whether REAL or FAKE, to put on the ballot.

    3. Allow political parties to provide financial support only to candidates who have chosen to list the OFFICIAL party name on the ballot.

    Dino Rossi can still choose a fake party name, if he thinks the REPUBLICAN label is too damaging to him. But the Republicans won’t be able to give Rossi any money in that situation.

  11. 11

    Moag spews:

    What about all the Democratic voters and Republican voters who participated in the partisan primaries but whose chosen candidate did not win the primary?

    Their candidate came in no better than third place. They shouldn‘t advance to the general election.

    Whereas with the old party-based system, a candidate could come in third, or fourth, or even fifth, and still make the general election ballot over someone who received more votes, just because they said they were of a certain party.

    Also, the primary is no longer partisan. Though party names — admittedly sometimes goofy names — appear on the ballot, they have no practical effect. Votes, not party labels, determine who gets to the general election.

    They are the voters too lazy or indifferent to be bothered to vote in a partisan primary or to get involved in third party politics.

    If they don’t vote, they can’t complain. Screw ‘em.

  12. 12

    ROTCODDAM spews:

    They vote in general elections.
    They do complain.
    And they are the reason we have this absurd charade of a primary election system in our state.

  13. 13

    Chris Stefan spews:

    As matty said it would have been better if the blanket primary that had been in place since the 30’s had been left alone. Still that outcome wasn’t likely once the Supreme Court threw out California’s blanket primary.

    The parties made things worse for themselves when they tried to push the state to register voters by party and go with closed primaries.