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Final issues surrounding the Top Two primary resolved in state’s favor by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Jan. 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
January 11, 2011 5:17 pm

The bulk of the case was resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, that the state’s Top Two primary is Constitutional. That cleared the state to run a primary that isn’t technically – or constitutionally – a party nominating process and not subject to party rules and procedures.

Rather than the top vote-getter from each party moving on to the general election, the two candidates with the most votes move on. In some cases, that has meant two Democrats or two Republicans facing off in November.

But there were a few issues unresolved, mostly having to do with the way the state ran the new primary and whether the implementation – rather than the concept – damaged the parties’ rights of association.

U.S. District Judge John Coughehour (pronounced COO-now-er) dismissed the challenges brought by state Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians. While it is subject to appeal, it also could end a decade of litigation over the state primary. The parties won the first round, getting the state’s old blanket primary tossed. But they have lost round two.

Here’s how the secretary of state’s office characterized the ruling…

The judge said the state Elections Division has carefully adopted the recommendations of the high court, making it clear that candidates “prefer” a particular party of their designation, but that the party may or may not endorse the candidate. Coughenour dismissed the parties’ contention that voters are confused by the party references.

He said the system “does not create the possibility of widespread confusion among the reasonable, well-informed electorate.” He did, however, conclude that the wide-open election system does not work for election for PCOs. He declined to order a fix.

The parties won one issue – that conducting elections for party officers called precinct committee officers on a ballot open to all voters is not legal. That likely means the state won’t conduct such elections and the parties will need to devise their own method.

Here’s a link to the posting by the Secretary of State’s office. It also contains a link to the 24-page ruling.

And here’s how state GOP Chairman Luke Esser reacted:

“We are pleased the court ruled in our favor on the PCO election issue, but we believe the judge erred in not recognizin the confusion created by the Top Two primary which infringes on our constitutional rights. We remain convinced that our constitutional rights will ultimately be vindicated and protected, and we will be considering our next steps in the coming weeks.”

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