Political parties must accept state's top-two primary system

A federal judge has upheld the voter-approved primary system as constitutional.

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Washington state's top-two primary system, enacted by voters in 2004, is a winner. It improves the chances voters will have a real choice between two solid, qualified candidates on the November ballot.

And it's constitutional. A federal judge last week upheld the top-two primary system against a challenge from the state's Republican and Democratic parties.

Over two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the system in which the top-two vote-getters, regardless of political party, move on to the final. But the high court conceded the top-two system might be confusing, depending on how the ballots were designed. The case was sent back to U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour.

Since then, the state has held top-two primary elections - very successfully, in our view. 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.

There's been no confusion. The candidates pick their party affiliation, sometimes even making up party names.

Coughenour agreed there was no confusion. He said the ballots make clear that the candidates listed are not necessarily endorsed by the political party they prefer and therefore do not violate the parties' First Amendment right of free association.

"The political parties may not admire Washington's new election system in which their designated candidates do not always advance to the general election, but that disappointment does not raise constitutional concerns," Coughenour wrote.

Democrats and Republicans brought this on themselves when they challenged Washington's popular open primary in which voters could crisscross the ballot, voting for some Democrats and some Republicans. The parties were successful in forcing voters to declare a party preference to cast a ballot in the primary.

But the Washington State Grange, in an effort to bring the power back to the people, pushed an initiative that established the top-two system.

The concept is clearly a better fit for Washington's independent-minded voters.

It is time for the political parties to accept the judgment of the courts and the people.

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