Opinion

Primary format frought with problems

I see rocks and shoals ahead in this first time shot at the new primary.

First off, I admit that, once we lost our beloved blanket primary, where we could vote a la carte among the political parties for the finalists we hoped to see on the November ballot, I favored requiring primary voters to choose one party’s ballot only.

The whole point of the primary election is to winnow the aspirants to the top vote getter in each party for each office. Party leaders had long whined that there was too much crossover in the blanket primary where some Democrats voted for the weakest candidate in the Republican party to improve their person’s chances in November, and ditto for the Republicans.

I have never believed many voters were sophisticated enough to vote that way, although it may have been the case in 1996 when Ellen Craswell ran among a bunch of much better qualified Republicans for governor and wound up on top. Democrats were delighted, of course, because then-popular Gary Locke didn’t need their vote in September. Against Craswell in November, he was a shoo-in.

Anyway, I got my wish when the 2004 Legislature sent Gov. Locke a bill calling for a primary election in which the top two vote getters in each race, regardless of party, advance to the general election. Knowing he didn’t favor that, however, they included the alternative of restricting voters to one party’s ballot.

Locke did as expected and vetoed out all but the alternative, which is where we are today.

I predicted in March that we are going to see the greatest lapse of memory among Wash-ingtonians since the lottery was authorized in 1982. No matter how much is printed in the newspapers about the new primary, that doesn’t mean people are reading it.

We’ve bounced back and forth so many times on the blanket primary, many people are going to say nobody told them it was gone for good this time and they are being forced to have a preference, just as they insist to this day that they were promised in 1982 that the lottery money would all go to education.

And because I don’t think people will be sufficiently informed (by their own choice), on the new primary ballot, I think we’ll have a lot of ballots thrown out. I believe it was a mistake for King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Chelan and Klickitat counties to put everything on one ballot instead of sending out separate ballots for each party as in the other counties.

In those six counties, voters must check one party box and stick to its candidates. I suspect many will crossover vote. After all, that’s the way they’ve done it for 70 years. All is not lost if they check only one party box. Their party votes will still count and any crossovers will not. If they check more than one party box, they’ve dealt themselves out of the primary election.

Non-partisan races will be at the bottom of multiparty ballots or on separate ballots. Voters who decline partisan picking may just complete the non-partisan part.

Counties sending out separate ballots give instructions to vote on only one ballot and return it, dumping the rest. If you send in more than one, you too have disenfranchised yourself.

No point in grousing about this. As I’ve told you before, this may be the only time you’ll vote this way because you also will vote in November on a state Grange initiative where the top two vote getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. If that passes because people are mad over what they got this year, wait until next year when they find themselves with races where there is no Republican or no Democrat because the other party had the top two vote getters.

I oppose the initiative, although its chief selling point is that it virtually eliminates third parties, which are mostly just spoilers. California’s first turnout after it lost the blanket primary was down by millions. We won’t be hit that hard, but I expect this 2004 primary to be a mess.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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