Voters were the winners this week when the Legislature approved the modified blanket — or "Top Two" — primary-election system. Now it’s up to Gov. Gary Locke to seal that victory by signing the bill.
Locke doesn’t like the modified blanket primary, favoring a system that requires voters to choose a single party ballot. To calm fears that the courts would nix the modified blanket primary and put this hot potato back in the Legislature’s lap, lawmakers added a backup plan to the bill. If the modified-blanket format is thrown out in court, the system Locke prefers would take its place.
That compromise, however, gives Locke the opportunity to have his way simply by vetoing the part of the bill that enacts the modified-blanket system. He should resist any urge to do so.
It took no small amount of political courage for majorities in both houses to cross their party leadership and approve a format that allows Washingtonians to retain their political independence at the ballot box. The parties, who sued to have that state’s 70-year-old blanket system thrown out in court, want more power over who runs under their banner, as well as who votes in partisan primary races.
We suspect, though, that most state voters cherish the ability to vote for their favorite primary candidates without being restricted to a single party’s ballot. The modified blanket format preserves that ability, and complies with recent court decisions by having the top two vote-getters in each partisan race advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
That means in rare cases, two candidates from the same party might square off in November. If voters believe they’re the best two candidates, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state’s top election official and chief proponent of the modified blanket primary, notes that it fits the historical heritage and political culture of this state, and that support for it has been diverse and bipartisan.
The parties say they’ll sue if Locke signs the bill as is. The people, through their representatives in the Legislature, have said, "Go ahead."
The governor should side with the people rather than the party organizations. He should sign the bill and allow the courts to decide once and for all how independent Washington’s voters are allowed to be.