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Primary Changes

Editorial for 9-2-2004

In 2003, the state of Washington was ordered by the courts to drop the "blanket primary" election we've used since 1935 and adopt a new method for nominating political candidates. The result is the so-called "Montana Primary" system, which compels voters to select candidates in just one political party.

With this mandated switch, we've lost the ability to vote back and forth between parties depending on the race, and that's unfortunate. But the courts ruled the old approach was unconstitutional, so changes had to be made.

Given that reality, each county in the state was given the option to choose between two ballot designs: the "consolidated" ballot, or "multiple" ballots.

The consolidated ballot has all the parties listed. On the ballot, voters mark off their preferred political party affiliation -- in the privacy of the voting booth -- then must make sure they vote only for that one party's candidates, or their votes will be tossed out.

The multiple ballot option provides separate, different ballots for each political party. With that method, a voter would go to the primary polling place and request a specific party's ballot.

Kudos to Klickitat County Auditor Diana Housden for choosing the consolidated primary election ballot, because it means no one has to reveal which party's candidates they plan to vote for. That loss of privacy was one of the key reasons people did not like the new primary process. Housden's move has successfully addressed that legitimate concern.

Going to a consolidated ballot is also a bit cheaper than printing the multiple ballots.

Housden has been touring the county, hosting forums such as the one at the White Salmon Community Library last week, trying to educate the voting public. Her efforts in this regard are appreciated.

Of course, there is likely to be some confusion at the polling places in the Sept. 14 state primary election, given that this is the first time in 70 years that Washington has not offered a blanket primary. But those who take a look at the new ballots and read the instructions will find it relatively easy to cast their votes properly.

While we mourn the passing of the blanket primary, the good news is, the alternative will not be too obnoxious. Further, of course, the general election ballot will not have any changes: we'll still get to vote for a Democrat for this race, a Republican for that race, and a Libertarian for yet another race. And that's the way it always should be: vote for the best person -- not for any party's label.

JB

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