Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


OLYMPIA - The Attorney General's Office today asked a federal judge to dismiss a case brought by state political parties challenging the constitutionality of Washington's primary election system.

The state contends the blanket primary is constitutional, and that the political parties have failed to show they can present sufficient evidence to win their case at trial.

Lawyers for the political parties informed state attorneys that they planned to file their own summary judgment motion prior to a Friday court deadline. The parties' motion would ask U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess to declare Washington's blanket primary unconstitutional, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year involving the California primary election system.

The state contends that Washington's existing blanket primary - established in 1934 by citizen initiative - differs significantly from the system thrown out in California by the Supreme Court.

If Burgess grants summary judgment for either side, the case would be decided without a trial, based on legal arguments presented by both sides. If the motions are denied, the case would proceed toward trial, now scheduled to begin on March 11, 2002.
Gregoire said the state is prepared to defend the blanket primary at trial if necessary. But she added, "We believe that the case presents legal issues that can be resolved by the court without a trial. We hope Judge Burgess will agree with our analysis and uphold an election system that has worked well in Washington for the past 65 years."

"Washington's primary clearly differs from the California system that the Supreme Court invalidated last year," said Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state's top elections officer. "Additionally, the parties have failed to show how they are being harmed by an election system that has been used for decades and which has helped to keep the parties vigorous and competitive in our state."

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

The political parties are seeking to invalidate Washington's blanket primary in light of last year's Supreme Court decision in California Democratic Party v. Jones.

In July 2000, the state Democratic Party filed suit seeking to bar future blanket primaries in Washington. The state Republican and Libertarian parties quickly joined the case on the side of the Democratic Party, while the Washington State Grange joined Secretary of State Sam Reed and the state in defending the current system.

In the motion for summary judgment, the Attorney General argues that the California decision does not invalidate Washington's primary because, unlike California, Washington does not register voters by political party. Therefore, Washington's primary does not constitute a party nominating process in the same sense that California's primary did. The state also argues that the parties have not shown sufficient harm from the blanket primary to win their case at trial.

Last July, Judge Burgess denied the parties' motion for a permanent injunction barring the state from holding future blanket primaries. The judge said it was the Legislature's role to implement any changes in the existing system, but said the court could still rule on the constitutionality of that system at a later date.