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Office of Governor Gary Locke
Contact:  Governor's Communications Office, 360-902-4136

Gov. Gary Locke Signs Bill Enacting Montana Primary Election System

Gov. Gary Locke today signed Senate Bill 6453 creating a Montana primary election system that will provide voters with the greatest choices in the general election.

“I must reiterate my extreme frustration and disappointment with the Republican and Democratic parties for challenging the constitutionality of the blanket primary in the first place,” Locke said. “The blanket primary has served our state well for almost 70 years.”

Locke vetoed the sections of the bill creating a so-called “top-two primary,” modeled after the Louisiana system.

“I have said all along that I support the Montana system because it best preserves voter choice in the November general election,” Locke said. “The Louisiana system is a poor option for Washington voters. It is likely unconstitutional, and it limits voter choice and participation. The Montana election system is a far better one.”

In the Montana system, voters may choose among candidates from a single party in partisan races in the primary election, in addition to voting for any person in the non-partisan races. Their choice of parties is completely confidential. No party registration is required. Independent voters have a choice of any party on a year-to-year basis, while maintaining their privacy by not being identified by either political party.

In the November general election, there is no change from the current system. Voters will have the choice to vote for any candidate, regardless of party, including the smaller parties, independents or write-ins. Almost 1 million votes were cast for third-party candidates in statewide races in the 2000 election.

“Let’s be clear: this isn’t just about choosing a primary system,” Locke said. “It is about choosing an overall election system – primary and general. The Montana system preserves what Washington voters are accustomed to – having many choices on the November general election ballot.”

Locke pointed out that in 2002 voter turnout in the general election was 56 percent of registered voters, compared with 34 percent in the primary. In 2000, a presidential election year, the general election turnout was 75 percent, or 2.5 million voters, compared with the primary turnout of 41 percent, or 1.3 million.

“Given the much larger turnout in general elections, it makes sense to focus our attention on providing the greatest number of choices in November,” Locke said. “The Montana system accomplishes the goal of greater voter choices in the general election, the Louisiana system does not.”

Locke outlined his concerns with the Louisiana system, arguing that it would:
·Deny the largest number of voters the widest range of choices by limiting the general election ballot to two candidates, possibly from the same party;
·Severely hurt smaller parties – Libertarians, Greens and others who would effectively be banned forever from the general election ballot;
·Decrease voter participation in the primary, especially if parties resort to conventions to choose their nominees; and
·Be promptly challenged by the political parties in federal court, and the state could easily be left on Sept. 14, 2004, without a primary system that provides for voter choice and privacy.

“My decision was made with the best interest of Washington voters in mind,” Locke said. “I believe this is the best course of action for the citizens of Washington. The Montana system best protects Washington voters’ choice, privacy and independence. It is urgent that we have such a system in place for the Sept. 14 primary”

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