August 25, 2004

For immediate release


It's not surprising that the Secretary of State is receiving thousands of phone calls from angry voters. The party nominating primary created by Governor Locke at the urging of the political party bosses prevents independent-minded voters from voting for all of the candidates they would normally support in a primary.

The Washington State Grange's Initiative Measure 872 (dubbed the "People's Choice" initiative) would restore the right of voters to support any candidate from any party in the primary.

The Grange, like the Secretary of State, has been flooded with calls from angry voters inquiring about the changes made to primary election law in the last year. The new system, often referred to as the "Montana-style" primary, will force voters to vote a straight party ticket for the first time in nearly 70 years.

"The voters are telling us that they are upset," said Grange President Terry Hunt. "We're concerned that many of them will not vote if they have to pick a party ballot.

"All we can do is provide them with information and let them know that they will have to opportunity to change the system in November by voting for the ‘People's Choice' initiative."

If passed, I-872 will establish a qualifying, or "top-two", primary in which the two candidates with the most votes in a primary will advance to the general election, regardless of what party they belong to. Voters will be able to select any candidate for any office, without limitation based on political party.

"I-872 preserves the key elements of the old blanket primary system," continued Hunt. "We actually liked the old system more, but the political parties and the government made sure that we couldn't use that system anymore. We believe the top-two is just as effective, because it gives the individual voters freedom at every stage of the political process."

The initiative, despite showing a strong 64 percent approval rating in a July poll conducted by Stuart Elway, has come under criticism from opponents recently. The opposition's contention is that I-872 will reduce voter choice in the general election.

"Our initiative will actually give the people more choices across the board. It is the responsibility of the voter to participate in the primary. If the voter participates, the voter has complete choice in deciding the outcome, which leads to a highly-representative slate of candidates in the general election."

According to Hunt, opponents of I-872 have perpetuated a myth that there will be a widespread occurrence to two candidates from the same party ending up on the general election ballot.

"This is simply not true," continued Hunt. "And we have the figures to back it up."

A recent study conducted by the Secretary of State's office regarding legislative and congressional elections over the last ten years indicated that this scenario would have occurred in only 3-4 percent of the races had they been run under a top-two system. And the bulk of those races took place in "safe" districts where candidates were running largely unopposed.

"In reality, had the top-two system been in place, candidates in those safe districts would have had to compete more than they do now," said Hunt. "This would have been especially beneficial to third party candidates, who would then only need to get the second highest number of votes to advance to the general election. This actually gives the voters more choices, not fewer."

The opposition has also stated that the third parties will be eliminated under the top-two. "The reality is that the top-two system is the only hope for the survival of the third parties," said Hunt. "The current system is going to solidify the power of the major political parties, because no one wants to vote a straight party ticket if the third party is only running candidates in a few of the offices on the ballot. The Montana system will be especially harmful to the Libertarian party, for example."


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