Washington state beat California to top-two primary

It’s a system where the voters, not the major political parties, control the process.

  • Tuesday, June 12, 2018 1:30am
  • Opinion

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Hey, California residents, you did not invent the top-two primary. And despite the national coverage calling this primary method unusual and confusing, it is neither. It is a sound and balanced way to have a primary where the voters, not the major political parties, control the process.

Yet, for those who spent any time on Tuesday night channel-surfing through the cable news networks or browsing social media, the clear impression was that California was the epicenter of some ginormous political shift.

The instant analysis coming out of the California primary misses some important perspective.

First, California was late to the top-two primary party. Washington state voters, approving an initiative by the Washington State Grange, adopted the idea six years earlier. And Louisiana was on to the concept before that.

In addition, and more importantly, the catalyst for the top-two primary in California in 2010, as it was in Washington state in 2004, was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made unconstitutional blanket primaries in which voters could cross party lines. The court ruled that the political parties, based on the First-Amendment principle of free association, have the right to control who voted in their primary elections.

Independent-minded Washington state voters were miffed. They enjoyed being able to vote for candidates of either party if they felt they were best for the individual offices.

The top-two primary has been a winner in Washington state.

Conservative areas (such as Southeastern Washington) are now likely to see two Republicans face off in November, while more liberal areas will find two Democrats on the ballot. Republicans who are center-right and Democrats who are center-left — folks who in the past were knocked out of contention in primaries controlled by the parties — have a real chance to be elected.

The results of Tuesday’s California primary aren’t necessarily a failure of the system, but the voters’ choices. Perhaps California’s moderate middle is smaller than it is in Washington state.

The top-two primary system in which all voters regardless of political affiliation have an equal say in who is on the November ballot will again be on display in Washington on Aug. 7. Take the time to vote (ballots go out July 20) and show the nation the system does work.

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