Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bring back the blanket primary

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
TOM KOENNINGER editor emeritus of The Columbian

I think I voted in the Sept. 19th primary election, but I'm not sure. Maybe I was dreaming. If so, it was a nightmare.

There was this white envelope, and the green-edged envelope and the yellow envelope.

There were warnings, and admonitions.

If I was found guilty of crossover voting casting a mark for a Republican when I declared I was a Democrat my ballot for Republicans would not count. The same thing would happen the other way around.

This whole process was dull, dreadfully dull. Watching paint dry comes to mind.

Perhaps I violated the law. Nights are sleepless and tense: Did I accidentally cross the line and mark a vote for a Republican? Or was I a self-declared Republican caught supporting a Democrat?

I think of myself as a middle-of-the-road guy. A Republi-crat. Or a Demo-can. I like to believe I have voted for the best person. Crossover voting is allowed Nov. 7 in the general election, but not in the primary. Maybe I should skip the primary.

Perhaps I'll go to jail, and someone will ask, "What are you in for, Mac?" And I'll have to say, "Crossover voting." I also shared my voting preferences with my wife. Maybe that will add time in the slammer. It's not the jail time, it's the embarrassment. I didn't follow directions.

If this is an experience in democracy, God save the queen.

I loved the blanket primary. It was easy to understand and comforting. But the political parties took it away two years ago. They claimed the blanket primary prevented each party from choosing its own candidates, and blocked free association. They accused voters of setting up victory in the opposition party by picking weaker candidates in the primary. The courts bought into party whimpering and declared the blanket unconstitutional.

It was gone for the first time in 70 years. Voters were angry. "People were saying, 'we want to vote for the person, not the party. This system takes away my rights and is undemocratic,'" said Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed told the Associated Press that voters made it clear they were "mad as hell" because they could not vote for their favorite candidate.

Public's preference overruled

In the Nov. 2, 2004, general election, voters supported I-872, a measure that would pick the "top two" vote winners in the election, moving it back to the open primary. Sixty percent of the state's voters endorsed it, but it was shot down again in the courts, thanks to the Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians.

That led us to the "pick-a-party" ballot for the current primary.
It's possible, but not likely, that political parties could eliminate the primary over time, replacing it with a nominating convention. Two years ago Chris Vance, then Washington State Republican Party chairman, said his party adopted a rule requiring selection of party nominees by election, if it can't pick them in a party primary.

Some say there's "no way" we can return to the blanket primary. Should we forget the blanket?

No. Let's not quit. The Washington State Grange teamed with the AFL-CIO in 1934 to launch the successful blanket primary initiative.

The grange, the union and the League of Women Voters would do this state a great service by taking up the primary ballot issue again. Right now, it's not voter-friendly.

Many people want to be able to make their own choices on the ballot, and not have them made by political parties.

We have come from machines and punch-card ballots to the kitchen table in the 21st century, marking our ballots with an ink pen black or blue, no exceptions. Most of us own, or have access to, computers. Why can't we use them as voting instruments?

Do we really live in an electronic age?

Even worse is the restriction on our freedoms. We fight, and die, for freedom of expression in all forms, and yet lose the freedom of choice in the primary election.

That is NOT progress.

Tom Koenninger is editor emeritus of The Columbian. His column of personal opinion appears on the Other Opinions page each Wednesday. Reach him at

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