Secretary of state faces a dilemma


Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Ralph Munro’s successor as Washington secretary of state won’t have the luxury of easing into office. From Day 1, he will have to grapple with how to broker a new primary election system for the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that blanket primaries, such as Washington pioneered in 1935, violate the political parties’ right to pick their own nominees without crossover voting.

For 65 years, Washington voters have not had to register by party and have been allowed to hopscotch around the primary ballot, choosing a favorite candidate for each office without regard for party label.

But now the parties want to assert their new court-given rights. And the public wants Olympia to keep its hands off the system they have loved for decades, says Munro, who attended a statewide series of hearings recently.

The 2001 Legislature and the new secretary of state will be caught in the middle. Munro, who announced his retirement before the high court ruled, calls the primary the biggest election concern in his 20-year tenure.

If lawmakers don’t strike just the right balance, either the federal courts will intervene for the parties or the people will rise up with an initiative that could outlaw partisan races in Washington, he says.

Into this mess come the contenders for Munro’s $78,000-a-year job.

Although four candidates are on the ballot, the winner is likely to be either Republican Sam Reed, the Thurston County auditor and former assistant secretary of state, or Democrat Don Bonker, a former Clark County auditor, congressman from Southwest Washington, two-time Senate contender and most recently a trade company executive.

Also on the ballot are Chris Loftis of the Reform Party and J. Bradley Gibson on the Libertarian Party ticket.

Neither Reed nor Bonker has made a definitive proposal on the primary, but both acknowledge it will be the pre-eminent issue facing the new secretary of state.

Reed, 59, says he wants a system as much like the current one as possible.

"I view my role as to articulate the importance of as much independence as possible, as much (ballot) secrecy as possible and as much openness as possible," he said.

Bonker, 63, said he wants to "devise a system that allows the maximum choice."

He said the parties’ First Amendment right of association must be balanced by what he calls the voters’ right of non-association, meaning that they shouldn’t be required to register by party or have their names put on a list when they take a party ballot.

He suggests a compromise. The parties would get lists of all voters willing to declare a party preference. And those who choose not to affiliate with a party could still vote in one party’s primary and their names would not be made public.

His party is requesting a system that does not allow crossover voting and that provides Democrats with a list of all who vote in their primary, including unaffiliated voters. Republicans still are studying the question, but some GOP leaders agree with the Democrats.

Both Reed and Bonker accuse the other of wanting a more closed system than voters seem to prefer. Reed said Bonker is the "hand-picked" candidate of the party leaders and will do their bidding. Bonker said Reed’s position might lead to party registration and giving the parties discretion whether to allow independents to participate. Both dispute the other’s characterization.

Bottom line: So far, Reed is staking out the position closer to the current setup.

The pair also is clashing over who is better equipped to handle the office.

Reed touts his hands-on knowledge of the office, his years as an award-winning county elections officer, his service as an elections observer in Uganda and Russia, and his experience working with the Legislature on behalf of the state’s county auditors.

Bonker, meanwhile, said he has a broader, better resume as a "trailblazing" auditor and member of Congress, and has more than a decade in the private sector, gaining an expertise in trade and foreign affairs.

Reed replies that Bonker sometimes thinks he running for trade representative, which isn’t part of the office duties.

Reed was the top vote-getter on primary night, outpolling Bonker by about 50,000 votes. But the combined Democratic vote was about 50 percent to the GOP candidates’ 45 percent. The only independent poll so far shows Bonker with a lead, but a large number of undecided votes. Reed believes he is ahead.

Gibson, the Libertarian, who polled about 3 percent of the total primary vote, says the state should eliminate taxpayer-funded primaries and let parties pick their own nominees through a process they pay for themselves.

Loftis, the Reform candidate, who got about 2 percent of the primary vote, has pledged to help forge a primary "that will both comply with the Supreme Court’s decision and serve the interests of Washington’s independent-minded voters."

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Former president Donald Trump is seen with a bloody ear as he is assisted off the stage during a campaign rally in Butler, Pa., on Saturday. MUST CREDIT: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Pops, screams and then blood: On the scene at the Trump rally shooting

Isaac Arnsdorf, Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post BUTLER, Pa. - The… Continue reading

Biden, Democrats, Republicans denounce shooting at Trump rally

Reaction pours in from government leaders

A bloodied Donald Trump is surrounded by Secret Service agents at a campaign rally in Butler, Pa, on Saturday, July, 13, 2024. The former president was rushed off stage at rally after sounds like shots; the former president was escorted into his motorcade at his rally in Butler, Pa., a rural town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Trump rally shooting investigated as assassination attempt

President Joe Biden gave a brief televised statement, condemning the violence as “sick.”

Firefighters and EMTs with Sky Valley Fire tour Eagle Falls while on an observational trip on Wednesday, July 10, 2024, near Index, Washington. (Jordan Hansen / The Herald)
Beautiful but deadly: Drownings common at Eagle Falls, other local waters

Locals and firefighters are sounding the alarm as Eagle Falls and the Granite Falls Fish Ladder have claimed five lives this year.

A view of the south eastern area of the Lake Stevens that includes lakeshore and UGA that is a part of the city's annexation area on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020 in Lake Stevens, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lake Stevens fight to take over sewer district could end soon

The city and sewer district have been locked in a yearslong dispute. A judge could put an end to the stalemate this month.

Lynnwood appoints new council member after abrupt resignation

Derica Escamilla will take the seat vacated by Shirley Sutton in May, who claimed the city had a “total lack of leadership.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.