March 10, 2004

For immediate release


The Washington State Grange today rejected Governor Gary Locke's contention that the proposed Montana-style primary system would satisfy the criteria he laid out as essential for determining what type of system to adopt to replace the blanket primary.

During a press conference today, the Governor reiterated his support for a Montana-type system, while at the same time expressing apprehension about the likelihood of a qualifying (“top-two”) primary being able to withstand a court challenge.

The Governor has stated that the main problem with the qualifying primary is that it would invite "endless litigation, which would interfere with the state's ability to conduct the 2004 primary elections. However, this would not be the case with the pending Engrossed Senate Bill 6453, establishing a qualifying primary with a Montana-style "poison pill." The primary would revert to a Montana system only after all the appeals processes by the political parties are exhausted, a process which could take years.

"There's absolutely no way the political parties are going to be able to affect the 2004 election," said Grange Legislative Director Toni McKinley. "They would have to completely wrap up the lawsuit by June 1 of this year to have any effect whatsoever."

Further, the Grange maintains that there is no significant evidence indicating that a qualifying primary would not satisfy the courts. The premise for the lawsuits by the parties in the first place was centered around the issue of nominating candidates by party. The qualifying primary selects candidates regardless of party.

The Grange also pointed out that even if the Legislature were to adopt a Montana system, legal problems could still arise.

"A Montana system doesn't guarantee an end to the litigation," said Grange President Terry Hunt. "The political parties said they would go along with this, but they still wouldn't be satisfied. They might object to some of the details of a Montana-type system -- and they would need to pursue these objections in a court of law."

In addition, the Grange disagreed with the Governor's assertion that a Montana-like primary system would be easy for county auditors to understand and implement, which is also part of the Governor's criteria.

"Under the Montana system, they would have to develop 4 or 5 different ballots," said Hunt. "Not only is that much more complicated than a top-two primary, it's also much more expensive.

"That's why we've been advocating the qualifying primary as an alternative to the blanket primary," continued Hunt. "It's the closest thing we've got to our blanket primary system, and that's what I thought we were trying to develop. Even the Governor said that he prefers the blanket primary system. It seems strange to me that he wouldn't support a qualifying primary outright."


For more information, contact David Burr, Communications Director, (360) 943-9911.