The stage is being set for what most Washingtonians -- conservative and liberal -- agree is a superbly designed exercise of political freedom. Our state’s eminently fair and populist inspired top two primary will unfold again on Tuesday, Aug. 7. Many office holders have announced runs for re-election. Numerous challengers have thrown their hats into the ring. The official candidate filing period will be May 14-18. And ballots will be mailed on Wednesday, July 18.Voters love the top two primary because it favors the people, not the parties. In each race, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of political affiliation. Party leaders, though, have opposed it because they want the primary to be controlled by the parties and not the people. But because the top two primary is more a winnowing process than a nominating event, voters of all political persuasions love it.
Blind to reality, the state’s Democratic and Libertarian parties last week filed separate requests asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear another legal challenge of the top two primary. Oblivious to the fact that this same high court four years ago ruled 7-2 in favor of the top two primary, Democratic and Libertarian party leaders continue to squawk about something most of their constituents embrace.
At least the Republicans have given up. State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur said litigation is too expensive and “there’s no good reason to think we’d win.” Too bad the Democrats and Libertarians don’t feel the same way. “I don’t necessarily like the top two (primary), but the people have spoken,” Wilbur added. “I can’t see any good reason to continue.”
Wilbur apparently understands a couple of other realities better than the Democrats or Libertarians. First, the top two primary has an impressive track record; the format has been used in the state for primaries since 2008. Second, its popularity is spreading. California voters adopted a form of the top two primary after Washington set the example.
What really irks party leaders is the fact that candidates and not parties declare political preference, typically listed as “prefers Democratic Party” or “prefers Republican Party” on the ballots. Party leaders argue that they might not support such candidates. Too bad. The statement clearly denotes that the candidate prefers the party -- not the opposite -- and voters clearly understand that expression.
The top two primary is a glowing manifestation of the free spirit that has dominated Washington politics for many decades. For example, we don’t declare party affiliation when registering to vote, as is required in other states. Also, there remains the possibility (although rarely seen in the past four years) that the top two vote-getters in a primary race could be from the same party, and the other major party could be left out. As much as this frightens party leaders, that possibility illustrates how the voters and not the parties are in control.
We’re confident you’ll enjoy participating in the top two primary again this year. Some day, maybe, we’ll be confident that all party leaders will give up and -- if not embrace the top two primary as warmly as voters do -- then at least accept it.