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Washington Secretary of State Asks Legislature to More Clearly Define "Major Political Party"

Published on January 9, 2013, by in General.

The Washington Secretary of State has submitted a proposed bill to the legislature, which makes many technical changes. Among them is a clearer definition of “major political party.” Existing law says a “major political party” is on the ballot automatically for President, whereas other parties must submit 1,000 signatures. Existing law also says a “major political party” is one whose nominee for any statewide office at the last election polled at least 5% of the vote.

Because parties in Washington no longer have nominees, except for President and Vice-President, the Libertarian Party last year filed a lawsuit, charging that the Republican Party was no longer a qualified major party after the November 2010 election because it had no nominees for a statewide office in 2010. The only statewide partisan office up in 2010 was U.S. Senate. A lower state court ruled that the Republican Party did have a nominee in 2010, because the state party had endorsed one particular individual, and therefore the Republican Party was still a qualified major party.

The proposed bill re-defines “major political party” to be one that polled 5% for President. When a party meets that vote test, it keeps that status for four years. The bill will probably exist with its own bill number next week.

13 Responses

  1. Demo Rep

    Where is that Model Election Law — with the various options ???

  2. Be Rational

    This is a continuation of the “top-two” plan to gradually move toward a one-party state as in the old USSR. They will gradually move toward the end of free elections in America.

    Time to repeal “top-two” everywhere.

  3. Jed Siple

    Consider the cases in California, a majority Democratic state, where voters got to choose between 2 Republicans for congress. Pathetic.

  4. Arthur C. Barker

    Major Political Party — see “Animal Farm”: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

  5. Jim Riley

    Sam Reed is Secretary of State until January 14.

    Presumably the bill is similar to those he has proposed in the past to clean up the election code to be consistent with the Top 2 election system.

    Federal courts have ruled that the definition of “major political party” in the Washington election code is meaningless with respect to Top 2 elections. The Libertarian Party should be sanctioned for their frivolous lawsuit.

    There is really no reason for having any qualifying standard for political parties based on past elections. Washington could simply define that a “political party” has certain organizational aspects and a nominal amount of adherents (say 100). If the Democratic, Republican, or Salmon Yoga parties wish to remain qualified to be a target for candidate preference for a partisan office, they would simply have to petition every 2 years with the signatures of 100 or more adherents.

    If the Republican or Democratic parties are unable to get 1000 signatures for their presidential candidate, they should be kept off the ballot.

    Washington should remove the current procedure for filling legislative vacancies from its Constitution. There is no reason that the legislature can not define a procedure by statute. This would eliminate the need for Washington to conduct elections for party officers.

    With its all-mail elections, there is no reason that a special election for a legislative seat should be considered an extraordinary expense. All voters in the district will be informed of the election when they receive their ballot in the mail.

    Alternatively, they could simply convene a vacancy commission drawn from a random sample of the electorate for the district. Washington holds odd-year special elections for legislative seats that had a legislator appointed to fill a vacancy. A vacancy commission could expeditiously fill the few vacancies that occur during the spring legislative session.

    The Democratic Party ignores the results of the presidential primary (though they do accept the lists of voters who vote in the Democratic Party), so it is a waste of taxpayer funds to hold a presidential primary.

    With the elimination of the presidential primary, election of precinct committee officers, and automatic qualification of certain party’s presidential nominees, there would be no reason to distinguish between “major” and “minor” parties.

    Finally, Washington should move the primary back to September, and adopt the system used in Louisiana for military and overseas voters – who may cast a provisional ranked-choice ballot for the general election at the time they cast their primary ballot.

    Alternatively, such a ballot could be sent prior to the canvassing of the votes from the primary. Overseas voters who were interested could easily determine the two candidates who qualified for the general election – but this would not be necessary in order to complete a ballot.

  6. Andy

    “The proposed bill re-defines “major political party” to be one that polled 5% for President. When a party meets that vote test, it keeps that status for four years. The bill will probably exist with its own bill number next week.”

    5% for President is a pretty high vote test. I don’t think that the Libertarian Party has ever gotten that high a percent of the vote in any state for any Presidential election.

  7. Jim Riley

    #6 “major” political party is a pretty meaningless and perhaps undesirable status in Washington. In fact, the Washington Libertarian Party got the definition of “major party” changed so that it was optional for them. They didn’t want to be a major party!

  8. Chris

    Jim, There is already a procedure in Washington to temporarily fill vacancies. Vacancies are filled by the county council(s) who select from a list of names provided by the parties. See this article: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2012/dec/10/kilmer-makes-state-to-federal-move-official/

  9. Demo Rep

    Every election is NEW and has ZERO to do with any event since the alleged Big Bang — except the number of actual voters in the prior election.

    –i.e. equal nominating petitions for ALL candidates in the next election.

    Difficult ONLY for SCOTUS and ballot access lawyer MORONS to understand.

  10. Jim Riley

    #8 Chris,

    The problem is that the constitution DOES specify the manner of replacement in vacancies. See this version of the constitution, which also includes the text prior to being amended.

    http://www.leg.wa.gov/LAWSANDAGENCYRULES/Pages/constitution.aspx

    Article II, Sections 4-6 specifies how legislators are to be elected. Notice that it does in a very minimal fashion. It does not specify that legislative elections are partisan. It does not specify that representatives be elected from the same districts as senators – only that a representative district can not be split by a senate district. In the past, some representatives have been elected by single member districts, with two separate districts within a senate district. In fact, it does not violate the Washington constitution to have 3 representative districts within some senate districts, and 2 within others; though this would violate the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution based on the one man, one vote decisions. It does not specify that election be by partisan primary, blanket primary, pick-a-party, or Top 2. The legislature, using its general power to legislate (Article II, Section 1) fills in all the details (in the case of Top 2, it was the People through the initiative process).

    Now look at Article II, Section 15, regarding filling of legislative vacancies. The original (1889) version was simple – the governor calls an election. The second version (1933) was straightforward – vacancies would be filled by the county commissioners.

    The original version is equivalent to that specified in the US Constitution for representatives, and the second is somewhat analogous to the procedure for filling senate vacancies, where the county commissioners are acting as the executive authority for their counties.

    The third version (1956) is starting to get really complicated. Now the replacement must be of the same “party” as the replaced member; and must be chosen from a list of three persons prepared by the “county central committee” of the party. This “simple” change has elevated the office of county central committee to a constitutional office. The 1956 version also added replacement of county officials. This really should not be in Article II, but rather Article XI.

    The fourth version (1967) added a backup plan for appointment by the governor when the county commissioners fail to agree on the replacement.

    The current version (2003) recognizes the concept of county home rule charters, and also has rules regarding how long a term is served by the replacement.

    Article II, Section 11 has multiple problems:

    (1) Attempt to define in the constitution, what belongs in statute. This explains why this section of the constitution has now been amended 5 times.

    (2) Makes the party county central committees part of the government process (this arguably violates both the US Constitution and international treaties regarding the independence of political parties).

    It is inconsistent with the purpose of the Top 2 primary, and the county central committee in a large county such as King County should not be preparing short lists for all districts in the county. Why should party hacks from Seattle be determining legislators representing Bellevue or Federal Way or vice versa? And it is even worse in the case of a district that crosses state county boundaries. While it appears that the Washington Democratic party will defer to the judgment of the PCO in LD 26, it is not required to do so.

    Kitsap County has 3 commissioners, all Democrats. Pierce County has 7 county councillors with a 5-2 split Republican majority. LD-26 is split about evenly between the two counties. Does this give an advantage to a candidate from Pierce County? Do the Democratic PCO game the system by placing 2 persons utterly unacceptable to the Republicans on the 3-person shortlist, so that they will be forced to vote for a candidate that is somewhat acceptable.

    Given that the representatives from District 26 are from opposite parties, it is not unreasonable that all voters in LD-26 should be able to participate in the choice of their new senator (there will be an election in November 2013 to fill the last year of the term).

    It was also a scab that the political parties could pick at in their legal efforts to overturn the Top 2 primary.

    (3) It incorporates replacement of county officials. This belongs in Article XI (and in the case of home rule counties, belongs in their charters).

    (4) Can not be modified by the initiative process, which is limited to ordinary legislation (the procedure for amending the constitution is in Article XXIII.

    So Article II, Section 15 should be modified to say:

    “The legislature shall provide for filling of vacancies in either house of the legislature”

    Similar language may need to be added to Article XI to handle county vacancies.

    This solves all the problems.

    (1) A complex procedure may be defined in statute. The legislature may consider whether replacement may be done by election, or some other process. A problem with using elecion would be that LD-26 might be unrepresented in the senate for most of the legislative session. Had Kilmer resigned immediately after his election to Congress; it is possible that the election might already have been held.

    (2) It removes the party central committees from the constitution.

    (3) It moves replacement of county officials back to Article XI (or county charters if appropriate).

    (4) If the People don’t like the procedure is legislated, they can change it through the initiative.

  11. No Difference

    From the article: “A lower state court ruled that the Republican Party did have a nominee in 2010, because the state party had endorsed one particular individual, and therefore the Republican Party was still a qualified major party.”

    So an endorsement constitutes “nominee” then, in that lower court’s eyes? So doesn’t that mean the LP could just endorse a candidate (nominee) and therefore be considered the same major party status? If not, how did that court distinguish this one shade of pure gray from this other shade of pure gray?

  12. Richard Winger

    #11, unfortunately, the lower court’s conclusion was just oral. The written order doesn’t have any of that reasoning in it and is just one page. That is normal for lower state courts.

  13. Jim Riley

    #11 The state court’s ruling was based on the wrong principle. The Democratic Party didn’t have a nominee in 2010 either. The Libertarian Party was displeased that the Republican Party chose not to continue the decade-long litigation over the Top 2 primary.

    The Democratic Party “endorsed” incumbent Patty Murray in the primary. The Republican Party chose not to “endorse” either Dino Rossi or Clint Didier. Murray and Rossi finished first and second in the primary, and the Republican Party then “endorsed” Dino Rossi.

    Neither was a “nominee” in the sense expected by the election code.

    The Libertarian Party was simply posturing. It was simple for the judge to say the Republicans and Democrats had a “nominee” in the general election, rather than waste any more time.

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