Today I was excited to read in the Seattle Times that Washington State's top-two primary system is going to produce as many as a dozen single-party races in the general election. Huzzah! This is great news for many districts who would generally face a very boring general election. First, here's a little history.
- Washington used to be the home of the Blanket Primary where voters could vote for whichever candidate they wanted in each race regardless of party alignment... so, they could vote in the Democratic Primary for governor, while voting in the Republican Primary for their local legislative races. Everyone was happy.
- In the late 90s (I think), California adopts a similar system, which is then challenged in court by the state parties. The suit goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled the Blanket Primary is a violation of the 1st Amendment Right of association... in this case, the Party's right of association.
- Washington State parties, realizing an opportunity to gain more control over their own nomination process, launch a similar lawsuit, which inevitably leads to the invalidation of Washington's long practiced Blanked Primary.
- In 2004 Washington State voters adopt I-872, an initiative that institutes a "top-two" primary, where the top two vote getters in an essentially non-partisan primary advance to the general election... meaning in liberal Seattle, two Democrats could appear on the general election ballot, and in conservative Eastern Washington, two Republicans could appear on the general election ballot.
- Washington State parties again sue, and win, in Federal District and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, blocking the rules from going into effect.
- The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the lower court's ruling, reinstating the top-two system... this is something I had totally missed, as I guess I'm not as plugged into the Washington State political machine as I once was.
- Now, in 2008, Washington State will have it's first top-two primary vote!
On the positive side, for the first time in a very long time, there will be actual general election challenges in what would otherwise be considered "safe" seats. Take, for example, Frank Chopp of the 43rd District (my old district). He's a good man, and Speaker of the House, and I was always happy to vote for him. But if he were to go off the deep end, there would be nothing I could do about it, because as the Speaker of the House he would dominate any primary challenge by local Democrats attempting to replace him. But, with a top-two system, come the general election a centrist democrat challenger has a legitimate chance against an entrenched force because conservatives, who would normally rally around a doomed Republican challenger, now have the opportunity to vote for the centrist Democrat in the general election. If a majority of the voters back Chopp, then clearly he didn't go off the deep end after all, but in the previous closed primary system, voters would have the dubious choice between an "off the deep end Democrat" and whatever crazy Republican had decided to mount a quixotic challenge in one of the bluest districts in the State.
Good luck to those candidates who find themselves in a one-party race come the general, I know it won't be easy... but it's for the best when you consider the alternative we see in places like Chicago. Don't get me wrong, parties are good, but not an absolute good.