Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Primary Bill Action
April 1, 2004
Good morning. Thank you all for coming. I would like to thank Liz Pierini, state action chair for the Washington League of Women Voters and Jody Haug, chair of the Green Party, for joining me today. I am here to act on Senate Bill 6453, relating to the state election system.
At the outset, 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. The blanket primary has served our state well for almost 70 years.
But the federal court of appeals has ruled that Washington’s blanket primary is unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court has chosen to let that decision stand.
We must respect both the letter and the spirit of the federal courts' rulings.
Therefore, in order to support our state’s democratic institutions, it is urgent that we ensure that the state of Washington has an effective and constitutional election system in place for the 2004 September primary election.
Choice in the General Election is Paramount
The most important issue to consider when choosing an election system is voter choice.
I have said all along that I support the Montana system because it best preserves voter choice in the November general election. Indeed, it keeps our current November general election unchanged. The so-called “top-two primary,” modeled after the Louisiana election system, does not preserve voter choice in the November general election. It dramatically changes the November general election we’re so used to.
The Louisiana system is a poor option for Washington voters. The Montana election system is a far better one.
Montana System Ensures Choice
In the Montana system, voters choose among candidates of a single party 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.
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. In 2000, eight political parties were represented on the general election ballot for statewide and legislative races, not including independent candidates. And almost 1 million votes were cast for third-party candidates in statewide races in the 2000 election. That is 1 million votes that would be eliminated by the Louisiana system! And that doesn’t include local legislative races, city or county council elections, or any other local contests. The scope of voters’ disenfranchisement in the general election would be enormous if they were forced to select from a ballot without a candidate representing either their preferred party or their general political views.
I want to emphasize: this isn’t just about choosing a primary system. It is about choosing an election system for both the September primary and the November general election. The Montana system preserves what voters’ are accustomed to: having many choices on the November general election ballot.
Let me be clear: My goal is to preserve the greatest voter choice in the November general election when turnout is almost twice the number in the September primary. The Montana system will do that.
Not only did many Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature support the Montana system, so do U.S. Representatives Dunn, Hastings, Dicks, Larson, Baird, Inslee, and McDermott.
Louisiana System Hinders Choice
The Louisiana system would result in decreased voter participation and choice in the November general election. First, the Louisiana system would deny the largest number of voters the widest range of choices. The Louisiana system shifts the most important election decisions to the primary, when turnout is a fraction of the participation in the general election.
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 half that number.
Given the much larger turnout in the November general elections, it makes sense to focus our attention on providing the greatest number of choices in November. We shouldn’t move the most significant decisions for voters to a time when participation is lowest – the September primary.
And in many cases, voters will have no real choice in the general election because two members of the same party will end up on the final ballot. Imagine being a conservative Republican and entering the voting booth at the November election and seeing only two liberal Democrats on the ballot. Voters want choices in the general election. And the Louisiana system would take those choices away.
Second, it would severely hurt smaller parties – Libertarians, Greens, and others – who would be effectively banned from the November election ballot. Whether you agree with them or not, small parties are part of the democratic fabric of our state and our nation. Their participation should not be limited to the primaries. Eliminating the third parties so early in the election process will take away valuable voices in our democratic process. It will also discourage third parties and independent voices from participating at all, since they will unlikely ever qualify for the general election. When you adopt a system that is designed to narrow the number and diversity of voices participating in the election, the result will be a narrowing of the voices and ideas present in our democracy.
Third, with the Louisiana system, parties would almost certainly resort to nominating their candidates through caucuses or conventions. This means even fewer people will have input into the selection of party nominees. That’s even less reason to vote in the September primary if the party nominees have already been chosen. And the state would also be embroiled in lengthy litigation over the use of party labels by candidates who have not been nominated according to party rules.
And fourth, the political parties have said they will promptly challenge the Louisiana system in federal court. Our state could easily be left on September 14, 2004, without a primary system that provides for voter choice and privacy. But instead a primary designed by the political parties and a federal judge.
I recognize that neither of the election systems in this bill is the most desirable. The people of our state and I prefer the current system that has been invalidated by the courts.
However, I must choose between these two systems in the bill. And I believe the Montana system is a better system because it ensures the greatest choice in the November general election, when more people vote, and indeed leaves our current November general election unchanged.
For over 100 years in Washington state, we have continually strived to provide the greatest choice for voters in our election system. We have strived increase access to those choices for voters, while encouraging diverse viewpoints and maintaining secrecy of voter choice. Signing this bill in its entirety would end this rich tradition. Voters may not be aware of this today. But they would discover it this November. And they would be very disappointed.
These concerns have convinced me, given the urgency we face, that the best course of action is to veto the parts of SB 6453 that enact the Louisiana primary and reduce choices in the November general election. I will sign the remainder of the bill, which enacts a Montana primary system.
I would now like to introduce Liz Pierini of the Washington League of Women Voters to say a few words.
[Invite Liz to the podium]
Thank you, Liz.
And now Jody Haug of the Green Party.
[Invite Jody to podium]
Thank you, Jody.
My decision was made with the best interests of Washington voters in mind. I believe this is the best course of action for the citizens of Washington. The Montana system best protects voters’ choice, privacy and independence. I will now sign the Montana system into law.