Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Nov. 30, 2022

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In Our View: Election a victory for state’s top-two primary

The Columbian

The results remain unclear. But an early analysis of Tuesday’s primary election provides some interesting insight into Washington’s election system.

“How WA’s ‘jungle’ primary may have saved Herrera Beutler,” reads the headline of an article in The Seattle Times. The Times sent a reporter to Clark County to cover the race for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District seat, and The Columbian published the same article under a similar headline. Meanwhile, published an Associated Press story with the headline, “Washington’s open primary helped Jaime Herrera Beutler thwart Trump’s ire.”

Well, that remains to be seen. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Battle Ground, a six-time Republican incumbent, has a slim lead over challenger Joe Kent for the second spot in the November election. The race is too close to call, with some ballots still to be counted. Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is the top vote-getter, easily moving to the general election.

The primary is scheduled to be certified later this month, following a complete count and, if necessary, a recount. It is part of a deliberate process designed to ensure that the will of the people is accurately assessed.

But regardless of whether Herrera Beutler or Kent advances to the general election, the race is a victory for Washington’s top-two primary system.

In our state, voters do not register for a particular political party. We all are essentially independents, free to vote for good governance regardless of party. In most states, voters register by party and members of those parties choose nominees for the general election.

One overlooked attribute of this system is that it sends only two candidates in each race to November. In other states, minor-party candidates can muddle the ballot.

But more obvious benefits have come into play in the 3rd Congressional District race, with the extremism that has infected our nation’s politics being tempered. Kent qualifies as an extremist, promoting the lie that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.”

Fellow Republican challengers Heidi St. John, Vicki Kraft and Leslie French also have endorsed views that do not reflect reason or common sense and do not reflect the beliefs of a majority of voters. Primary elections that allow voters to support candidates of either party help to bring our politics toward the sensible middle that is the cauldron of effective policy, away from the extremism that has influenced both major parties.

If she advances, Herrera Beutler will have been helped by the presence of both Kent and third-place finisher St. John, who likely split the vote of conservatives and provided a pathway for the incumbent. But amid the endless analysis that will result, another attribute likely will be ignored.

The congresswoman has drawn the ire of Donald Trump supporters for voting in favor of his second impeachment. This was a logical and moral stance after the then-president declined to defuse an attack on democracy at the U.S. Capitol.

It is notable that two of the 10 Republicans who voted in favor of that impeachment were from Washington. Our top-two system reduces the prospect of an incumbent being challenged by extremists in primary elections, increasing the chances that representatives will act in the best interests of the nation rather than capitulating to outsized fringe elements of their party.

All of that has played a role in a most interesting primary election. Although the ballots still are being counted, the clear winners are voters who benefit from our top-two primary.

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