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Primary Haze

Editorial for Aug. 31, 2006

This year's primary election balloting ought to be interesting. It's also going to be convoluted and a tad confusing.

First of all, the reason we were given as to why the state's primary ballot had to change from the traditional "open" or "blanket" primary system was to protect the right of the political parties to decide who gets their party's respective nominations. In fact, the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties filed the lawsuit that ultimately changed the way we can vote in primaries in Washington.

With the previous system, voters could, for example, vote for a Democratic candidate in one race, a Republican candidate in another race, and a Libertarian in yet another contest. Now, voters in Washington will get a ballot that has a box listing three political parties: Republican, Democratic, or Libertarian. Voters will be allowed to check just one box, and then must vote only for the candidates within that political party.

But this new "protect the parties" system will present an unintended and contrary scenario in Klickitat County this year, and it's not good news for Republicans.

Here is the situation: In the Sept. 19 primary, there are three countywide races. Republicans will be choosing their party's nominee for Prosecuting Attorney (incumbent Tim O'Neill vs. challenger Julie Vance) as well as for Sheriff (incumbent Chris Mace vs. challenger Rick McComas). The Democrats, meanwhile, will be selecting a nominee for County Commissioner in District 2 (Chris Connolly vs. Marc Harvey).

Yet, bizarrely, the way the system is set up all but guarantees that a large number of Democrats are likely to cross over and vote in the GOP primary. Why? Because most Democrats in Klickitat County will NOT be able to vote in the Democratic Party's County Commissioner race. That's because only voters living in District 2 (roughly, the center of the county, from west Goldendale to Snowden) will be allowed to vote in that contest.

It's a confusing system, but in the primary, only voters in the County Commission district being contested get to vote on who the nominee will be. (In the general election, however, the County Commission race will be on the ballot all across the county.)

The upshot is, for the Sept. 19 primary election, roughly two-thirds of the county's Democrats -- including those in White Slamon, Bingen, Husum, Trout Lake, and Glenwood -- will not have any local candidates to vote for on their ballot. If they want to participate in the primary, the only choice they will have is to take the option of marking the Republican box and casting ballots in the Sheriff or Prosecuting Attorney races.

It's hard to imagine that's what Republican Party activists wanted to happen, but with this new primary plan, that is what is likely to occur. And it's exactly the opposite of what the new voting system was designed to achieve.

The possibility of crossover Democrats voting in the Republican primary this year is heightened by the fact that whoever wins the primary in these two Republican races will be the winner in November. Because no Democrats filed to run for Sheriff or Prosecuting Attorney, there will be no opponent appearing on the general election ballot in these two races. It's winner take all in the primary.

All told, this demonstrates that the new primary voting system is illogical and counterproductive, as well as being unfair to the voters. This is one the parties and the courts should have just left alone in the first place, as the primary system had been working just fine, thank you, for the past 70 years.

JB

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