Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


TACOMA -3/28/02 - U.S. District Court Judge Franklin Burgess today ruled that the blanket primary, used in Washington since 1936 to determine major candidates on the state general-election ballot, is constitutional.

The judge's decision came in a case initially filed in July 2000 by the state's Democratic Party, which was quickly joined by the Republican and Libertarian parties. Burgess granted a summary judgment motion filed by the state asking the court to dismiss the case.

"I consider this decision a victory for Washington voters," Attorney General Christine Gregoire said. "It preserves the primary system that voters are fimilar with, and which I believe they prefer."

Under Washington's blanket primary system, citizens voting in elections may cast ballots for the candidates of their choice, without declaring party affiliations. The candidate from each party who receives the most votes then advances to the general election.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in California Democratic Party v. Jones that California's blanket primary violated the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of association by permitting non-party members to vote in the parties' candidate-selection process. Washington's political parties then filed suit, arguing that under the California decision, Washington's blanket primary also was unconstitutional.

In defending Washington's primary, the state successfully argued that the California decision does not invalidate Washington's primary because, unlike California, Washington's primary does not constitute a party nominating process in the same sense that California's primary did. The state also argued that the parties had not shown that they were sufficiently harmed by the blanket primary for the court to prohibit future blanket primaries.