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Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson explains practical aspects of Top Two primary decision

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Jan. 12, 2011 at 9:34 am |
January 12, 2011 10:34 am

Tuesday’s ruling that the state’s Top Two primary is legal both in theory and in application may not end the decade-old litigation on the state primary. But it certainly will make it difficult for the state’s political parties to prevail in the argument that the form of the primary violates their rights to free association.

That is the hope of elections officials who have been struggling with frequent changes in the laws.

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson wrote last night about the practical aspects of the ruling, especially in the way it will make it easier and cheaper to run primaries.

Julie Anderson

“This validation of a Top-2 Primary means we will eliminate the state-mandated explanatory inserts in ballots (which have created labor, printing, and postage issues for us),” Anderson wrote.

It also means the secretary of state can begin a clean-up of the election statutes that have been on hold while the case was still pending.

But Anderson said the end of state-sponsored elections for party precinct officers will have the biggest impact. In siding with the state on most aspects of the challenge, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour did agree with one part of the parties’ challenge. It is not legal for the state to run PCO elections that allow all voters – regardless of party – to vote on those officers. The solution seems to be that the state will stop running those elections and the parties will have to come up with their own method.

“Eliminating PCO elections will reduce voter confusion,” Anderson wrote. “Think about it. We tell people that you don’t have to pick a party to vote. But, then issue ballots every other year with a Top-2 Primary system followed by a strictly partisan PCO race, which requires picking a party.

“And, nobody knows what a PCO(does and the PCO candidates don’t appear in the Voters’ Pamphlet (cost prohibitive). This generates a ton of calls to our office and questions at the polling places.

“So, we’re thrilled with the ruling,” she wrote. “It’s really bothered me to exert so much time and money on managing the elections on behalf of private organizations that don’t pay for the service ”

There were 425 precinct officer candidates in 2008 and 281 in 2010.

“PCO elections force us to create more ballot styles than we otherwise would (and that means staff time on ballot design, as well as significant printing costs),” Anderson wrote. “PCO elections forced us to generate an additional 227 unique ballot styles in 2008 and 196 additional unique ballot styles in 2010.

“Iin other words, without PCO elections, we could eliminate about 200 ballot styles,” Anderson wrote.

Top Two was adopted by voter initiative to replace the pick-a-party primary that required voters to select one party’s ballot and only vote for candidates from that party. Pick a party replaced the blanket primary which was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court after it was challenged by the state Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties.

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