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September 15, 2003
9th Circuit Panel Rules Blanket Primary Unconstitutional

OLYMPIA - A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today found Washington's blanket primary system unconstitutional.

The 3-0 decision overturned a March 2002 decision by a U.S. District Court judge in Tacoma that the state's primary did not violate the U.S. Constitution by interfering with political parties' First Amendment right of association.

Attorney General Christine Gregoire said her office will confer with Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state's top elections official, before deciding whether to ask for U.S. Supreme Court review of today's decision

"We want to be sure that all the state's arguments in favor of the blanket primary have been thoroughly reviewed before the state is required to modify an election system that has worked well for voters for the past 67 years," Gregoire said.

The challenge to the blanket primary system was filed in 2000 by state political parties, which argued that a U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidating California's primary election process rendered Washington's primary unconstitutional.

Washington argued that this state's primary differed in key respects from the California system that was found to be unconstitutional. For example, California, unlike Washington, defined its primary as a party-nominating process. In addition, Washington voters, unlike those in California, are not required to affiliate with a political party when they register to vote, andthe two states differ in the ways they regulate the internal organization and responsibilities of political parties.

The 9th Circuit found that even assuming these factual differences, it didn't make a legal difference with regards to the constitutionality of our primary. The court also said its decision is compelled by the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down California's primary system.

Gregoire said it will be important to resolve this issue as early as possible to allow the Legislature, if necessary, to revise the primary process.

Washington has used the blanket primary as a means of selecting candidates for the general election ballot since 1936.


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