Let’s move forward...

I respectfully call upon the political parties of Washington to drop their continuing legal challenges to the Top 2 Primary and put their time and talent to better use improving our state and developing new leaders for tomorrow, rather than fighting the clear will of the people.

The voters of Washington approved this new system by a landslide margin in 2004, and last March, the highest court in the land, in a ringing 7-2 opinion, cleared aside objections from the political parties and cleared the way for this popular new system to be used this summer.

The people love it, pure and simple. In my travels across this state and in conversations with our hard-working County Auditors, one message comes through loud and clear: Voters are delighted to return to a system that allows maximum independence of thought and choice. It puts voters back in the driver’s seat, permitting them to vote their favorite for each and every office, without limiting their choices to just one party’s ballot. This new wide-open system honors our longtime political tradition that we “vote for the person, not the party.” It’s our heritage and it’s our preference, a central reality the parties seem too willing to dismiss. It’s the way we want to vote.

People were absolutely furious in recent years when they were restricted to just one party’s primary candidates. They flooded state and county elections offices with irate calls and e-mails. Some shredded their ballots, others returned them with obscenities scrawled across them and others, sadly, simply boycotted the election. This time around, with the voter-approved Top 2 system finally given the green light, we heard plenty of positive, enthusiastic feedback. A new statewide Elway Poll shows that more than three-quarters of our voters like the new system, and vastly prefer it to the old pick-a-party system that limited voter choice. Democrats, Republicans and independents all concur.

“So here’s the point: It’s time for the parties to move on. They’ve already filed challenges in federal court, suing our voters and the system they adopted with a landslide 60 percent vote. The party leaders won’t rest until they get a more restrictive party-based system — public opinion be damned, apparently. The political parties already have spent years — and hundreds of thousands of contributors’ dollars — battling the wide-open system of voting that so many of us want. Due to their courtroom challenges, we’ve had three types of primaries in the last five years … and now they’re threatening still more lawsuits, more spending, more unrest. And every time they haul us to court, of course, the taxpayers have to foot the bill for defending the voters’ rights.

“So, I think most of us would say it’s high time for the parties to just let it go … and to use their time and money and energy to recruit and support their candidates. I have been a strong party advocate for decades and I adamantly believe in a vibrant system of political parties, including our minor parties. The parties have a vital and creative role to play and I honestly believe they will thrive in the Top 2 environment, bringing forward their best possible candidates and allowing the voters’ choices to face off in November. We hope that newly competitive races in formerly one-party districts will spur even more choices for voters in the future.

“We wish the parties well. But on this matter of the Top 2 primary, we stand with the voters. Let’s move forward.”

Sam Reed is Washington’s 14th secretary of state and is former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. He may be reached at sreed@secstate.wa.gov.

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