Court upholds state's primary election law

Island County voters can cast primary election ballots they same way they've done it for 67 years thanks to a decision by U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess.

The judge ruled March 27 that Washington state's blanket primary is legal, rejecting a challenge by the state Democratic and Republican parties.

Under Washington's blanket primary law, voters don't have to register by party. Also, all voters receive the same ballot, allowing them vote for any candidate regardless of political party.

Burgess' ruling ends any chance of a primary change this summer, but it could be overturned in the future if appealed by the political parties.

The next primary election is scheduled for September.

Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair, who oversees local elections, expressed relief at the ruling.

"I'm relieved we don't have to cope with an entirely new system this fall," Sinclair said last week.

The issue arose two years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out California's newly adopted primary system, which was patterned after Washington's. Burgess, however, found enough differences to allow Washington's system to be retained.

Sinclair said she attended several public hearings on the issue last year, and public sentiment was clear.

"Washington people really don't want to register by party and vote by party," she said.

Locally, she asked members of the South Whidbey Rotary Club if they wanted to change the way they vote.

"The answer was not only 'No,' but, 'Hell No,' " she said.

Sinclair said voters want to keep "their sense of privacy."

The Washington State Grange led a grassroots effort 67 years ago that resulted in the state's blanket primary. The Grange and state officials argued before Burgess that the system should be kept.

The Grange responded to Burgess' decision with a news release stating, "As long as political parties attack the blanket primary, the Grange will defend the people's right to choose their candidates."

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