Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Party Party!

So a decision on the Washington State primary system came down last week from the Supreme Court, approving the "Top Two" primary system for this state's local elections. I've been reading up about it, and from what I gather, no one has any idea what this is going to mean for the next election. That includes me.

Here's the backstory. Washington State, in its rebellious, frontier way, had an "open primary" for the local offices, which meant anyone could vote. And if you were a Democrat, you could go in a vote Republican just as easily as Dem - secret ballot and all that. I think such events existed more in theory than practice, for while tempted, I've always voted with an eye towards putting the best person in the office (but then, I'm old-fashioned). The local parties didn't care much for this system, and challenged it in court, and the open primary went away.

Their argument, by the way, was an open primary was unconstitutional from the aspect that it denied the parties their right of freedom of association, which is to say, by saying anyone could vote, they were forced to let in people who did not share Dem (or GOP) values, and were voting just to make mischief. Yeah, it sounds wonky, and it is the rational behind such ideas as keeping gay pride groups out of the St. Patty's day parade in NYC. Or by the same token, keeping the klan from crashing your book club.

So the open primary is gone, and the political parties should be happy. Well, no, because it was replaced by a "Top Two" primary, similar to that of Louisiana (a hallmark of good and transparent government, I know). Under the top two, the two highest vote-getters go on to the main election.

What does this mean? Well, it depends on who's answering the question - to those supporting the idea, this will make elections more competitive again by preventing obvious blowouts in areas where one party is much weaker than the other. So you get your choice of which Dem gets to run things. I'm not sure this is a good thing.

Another argument is that you'll more often see rebellions within the party, where a rebel Dem or Republican will run against the party anointed choice, and do well enough to force a general runoff. This may mean more centrist candidates, since a candidate that doesn't hold much of a chance against the hardcore base of the party (right for GOP, left for Democrat), can survive to the general and therefore appeal to a larger population of the previously cut-out individuals. This is probably why the parties don't much care for it.

And I've seen the idea posted that when you have two party-chosen candidates (such as the upcoming rematch of Rossi and Gregoire, or Burner and Reichert), you get the bonus of having to vote twice for the same matchup (Yeah, that's going to go down well with the voters, and make the more paranoid among us wonder how a 56-44 split becomes a 51-49 split in the final).

And here's one more possibility - this will be the death of the small parties in the general election, not that they have been horribly successful. There are enough base Dems and core Reps that if there in anything representing a fair fight, the Greens, Socialists, and Independents are gone. I think this is the one that's going to happen, but stay tuned.

So what happens next? Well, the parties are STILL not happy, but they got their court decision and now have to abide by it. And I have to express a little irritation that we're spending public money to settle THEIR fights, but that's the nature of the beast. The only thing to do is go hull down and see how this plays through the next season. Because your guess here is as good as mine.

More later,