In Our View: The Best Kind of Primary

Ceremony wasn't flashy, but history was made last week



Occasionally in local and state politics, subtle and seemingly insignificant developments can hide momentous events. For example, few people in Clark County (beyond the inveterate political geeks) thought it was unusual last year when Republican candidates for the Legislature Brandon Vick and Adrian Cortes advanced beyond the primary to the general election (where Vick won), or when Republicans David Madore and incumbent Marc Boldt did the same thing in a race for county commissioner (Madore eventually won).Actually, though, history was made in those two races. The November 2012 election marked the first time since the birth of the top two primary in 2008 that two candidates from the same party had advanced to the general election. Nothing wrong with that, we editorialized. The glory of the top two primary is that it promotes the voters’ two favorite choices regardless of political affiliation.

Second example: Last week in Olympia, at a lightly attended ceremony that drew little publicity, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that most Washingtonians knew nothing about: Senate Bill 5518, which the average citizen would understandably believe dealt with a bunch of administrative minutiae. Actually, though, history was made at this event, too. The top two primary became the unchallenged law of our state. All law books will be cleared of references to the old, absurd pick-a-party primary, which had incensed voters by requiring them to declare party affiliation in a state that does not (thankfully) require voters to register by party.

Tiresome appeals by officials of political parties — against the expressed will of the voters — now are consigned to history. David Ammons, former Vancouverite and spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, described the bill signing as “a quiet, noncontroversial ending to a 12-year legal, legislative and ballot-box battle to preserve a wide-open primary system for Washington voters. The fight had involved the political parties, the highest court in the land, and even a detour through California.”

That court is the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2008 ruled against the political party kingpins and declared the top two primary constitutional. And that detour through California referred to approval in that state of the Washington-style primary.

One of the party leaders’ biggest complaints was that one party in any one race could hog the general election, to which we responded: And that would be bad because? Let voters decide what they want. As it turned out, in the 2008 primary, among 14 partisan races in Clark County, not a single one advanced two candidates from the same party. After two years, 27 local races each advanced one candidate from each party. Again, though, no big deal. And then in 2012 Vick-Cortes (actually, there was no Democrat entered in this primary race) and Madore-Boldt defied the trend.

When local voters proceed to this year’s primary on Aug. 6, we doubt many will remember the history that was made last November and last week. But we should all be proud that Washington’s excellent top two primary — rare among states — now stands unquestionably as a model for the rest of the nation.