Primary confusion

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

If you had to pick a specific party’s ballot for the primary election in September, would you choose one with candidates for a dozen races ranging from U.S. Senate to county commissioner, or one with candidates for just two races?

The Reform and Libertarian parties are worried that more than 99 percent of you would choose the bigger ballot, so they’re planning to jump into the blanket primary ballot battle Monday with a lawsuit to protect their candidates from being struck out by Democrats and Republicans before the final inning.

"I don’t mind getting beaten by someone who gets more votes than I do," Chris Loftis, the Reform Party’s candidate for Secretary of State, said Thursday. "That’s the way our system works. But I hate getting beaten by an 11th-hour procedural change.

"That’s not fair."

Loftis was referring to the state Democratic Party’s plans to sue Washington state to change the blanket primary in time for the Sept. 19 primary election. The state Republican Party is against the lawsuit, but Snohomish County GOP chairman Jerry Miller agrees with the Democrats and had planned to file his own suit if they didn’t.

A blanket primary is one that allows voters to choose from all candidates of all parties in all races. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that California’s similar blanket primary is unconstitutional, so although Washingtonians have voted that way for 65 years, the state will have to come up with new procedures for primary elections.

One option – the one the Democrats want – is to let each party have its own ballot and then make voters pick just one ballot to vote from.

That creates a problem for minor parties, which would probably only have candidates running for a few races.

"Who’s going to choose that? Nobody," state Secretary of State Ralph Munro said.

Under current election rules, minor party candidates have to receive at least 1 percent of the vote in the primary in order for them to advance to the general election in November. So Loftis said the Reform and Libertarian parties want to either keep the blanket primary this year and change it next year – that’s Munro’s recommendation and that of many other elected officials – or do away with the 1 percent requirement.

Reform Party members will discuss the issue at Saturday’s state convention to decide which party will play what role, Loftis said, and announce official plans for the lawsuit Monday.

"We will be taking whatever legal options are available to us to keep that 1 percent requirement from keeping us off the ballot," he said.

In addition to all the legal wrangling over whether it’s too late to change the primary this year, there are financial questions as well.

A typical election in Snohomish County costs $600,000, Auditor Bob Terwilliger said. He estimated a change would cost the county about $100,000 extra in what is already a tight budget year.

As the newly elected president of the state Association of County Auditors, Terwilliger wrote a letter to state Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt Tuesday asking him to hold off on the changes for financial reasons and to avoid creating "mass confusion" for voters.

"We’re not blowing smoke or playing games here," Munro said. "We’ve got a serious, serious problem we need to figure out."

You can call Herald Writer Susanna Ray at 425-339-3439or send e-mail to

ray@heraldnet.com.

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