In Our View: Primary on Cutting Edge

Top two system allows voters to cross party lines; ballots due Tuesday

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In boxing, they call it the undercard. It is the series of bouts prior to the evening's main event, designed to build anticipation and to prime the audience for the big fight. In politics, they call it the primary.

Ballots are due Tuesday for the primary that will set the stage for the November general election. And while voters typically view the primary as little more than an undercard, it can be a crucial demarcation point in an election season.

Washington is blessed to have a top two primary, meaning that two candidates in each race will advance, regardless of party. It also means that voters can cross party lines in the primary, a system that is much preferable to that found in many parts of the country. Most states have party primaries, and the result in modern times has been that party members often support the more extreme adherents to their ideology at the expense of moderation and without consideration of a candidate's ability to govern.

The idea of a top two or "open" primary has been gaining momentum throughout the country. In an opinion piece for The New York Times under the headline "End Partisan Primaries, Save America," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., recently wrote, "Polarization and partisanship are a plague on American politics." Other states also are considering top two primaries, but Washington is one of the few that has adopted such a system. As often happens, this state is on the cutting edge.

Still, the primary can be a hard sell to the populace. In 2010, the last midterm election, 39 percent of registered voters in Clark County bothered to turn in their ballots. We urge voters to take part in the electoral process; more importantly, we urge them to be informed voters who are familiar with the candidates and those candidates' stands on the issues.

When ballots went out in July, The Columbian presented its recommendations to voters. As we often have mentioned, these are merely suggestions designed to foster discussion and to help inform voters. For complete editorials on the individual races, and for video of Editorial Board meetings with the candidates, go to www.columbian.com/news/opinion/endorsements. Here is a recap of The Columbian's recommendations:

• Washington's 3rd Congressional District: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R); Bob Dingethal (D).

• State Representative, 17th District, Position 2: Paul Harris (R); Richard McCluskey (D).

• State Representative, 18th District, Position 1: Brandon Vick (R); Mike Briggs (D).

• State Representative, 49th District, Position 1: Sharon Wylie (D).

• State Representative, 49th District, Position 2: Jim Moeller (D); Carolyn Crain (R).

• Clark County Sheriff: Chuck Atkins (R); Shane Gardner (no party preference).

• Clark Public Utilities commissioner, District 3: Byron Hanke; Jane Van Dyke.

Following Tuesday's primary, the fields will be narrowed to two candidates in each race. The Columbian will assess the candidates for those positions and will make recommendations prior to the general election. The Editorial Board also will offer suggestions for races that have only two candidates to start with, including a pair of contests for state representative and one for a seat on the Clark County Board of Commissioners.

Those will come in preparation for the main event. But first comes an undercard that offers plenty of intrigue and anticipation.