Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Olympia - May 22, 2001 - Lacking a legislative resolution, Attorney General Christine Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed today asked a federal judge to impose a temporary alternative to the state's unconstitutional blanket primary.

State attorneys filed the request with U.S. District Judge Frank Burgess under a court deadline for responding to a motion by the political parties to permanently stop the state from holding another blanket primary.

The state noted that as Washington's top elections officer, Reed's strong preference would have been to present the court with a legislative alternative today. The Legislature, not the courts, is the proper place to resolve such disputes over state policy, court papers said.

With no final legislative decision completed in time for today's deadline, the state filing noted that Reed was reluctantly recommending a temporary primary system that would retain all the features of the current primary system with one exception: for each partisan office, the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election regardless of political affiliation. Under the blanket-primary system, the top voter-getter from each major political party advances to the general election.

"The people of Washington value their ability to vote for the candidates of their choosing, regardless of the candidates' political affiliation," Gregoire said. "By proposing this temporary solution to the court, we are trying to preserve that policy decision on behalf of the voters of this state."

Gregoire noted, however, that "the Attorney General's Office stands ready to defend any primary adopted by the Legislature that meets the constitutional test."

Gregoire argued any alternative imposed by the court should involve the fewest possible changes from current state law, and should not foreclose action by the Legislature to adopt a different elections system that meets constitutional requirements.

Last summer, the political parties filed suit to block future blanket primaries, which have been conducted in Washington since 1935. Their action came following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found California's primary, which was patterned after Washington's, was unconstitutional. In light of the Supreme Court decision, Gregoire agreed today that the blanket primary could not be conducted as it has in the past.

But Gregoire did not agree that a new primary system proposed by the political parties should replace the blanket primary. The political parties are asking the court to adopt a system that would require voters to be a member of a party to ensure that their votes are counted in determining who advances to the general election.

In the court filing, the state argued the party proposals are "sweeping in scope but wanting in detail, begging many unasked policy questions that would be best left to the Legislature."