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Washington Secretary of State's Bill to Change Definition of Qualified Party Moves Ahead

Published on February 13, 2013, by in General.

The Washington Secretary of State has asked the legislature to clarify the definition of a ballot-qualified party. The existing law says that it is a party that polled at least 5% for any statewide nominee, but parties no longer have nominees in Washington state, except for President. The Libertarian Party brought a lawsuit last year, alleging that even the Republican Party was no longer ballot-qualified because it had no nominee for U.S. Senate in 2010 (in 2010, U.S. Senate was the only statewide race on the ballot). The Libertarian Party lost the lawsuit because the court ruled that because the Republicans had endorsed a U.S. Senate candidate, that satisfied the requirement.

Nevertheless, the existing law is quite awkward, so the Secretary of State is asking the legislature to pass SB 5518 and HB 1157, identical bills that define a qualified party to be a party that polled 5% for President at the last presidential election. HB 1157 passed the House Government Operations & Election Committee on February 7.

The problem with the Secretary of State’s approach is that it precludes a party that never runs for President from ever being a qualified party in Washington state. There are many qualified one-state political parties in the U.S. that have never had a presidential candidate and never want to have one, because they only care about state and local politics. There is no case law on whether a state can exclude a party with no interest in presidential elections from being a qualified party, but it would seem a one-state party with no interest in the presidential election would have a strong complaint. Thanks to Linde Knighton for this news.

Washington state doesn’t use the term “qualified party” in its election law; it uses the term “major party.” In Washington, only major parties are entitled to choose party officers in the primary, and to participate in choosing a new legislator when there is a legislative vacancy and the past legislator was a member of that party.

2 Responses

  1. Jim Riley

    The fundamental problem is that the Washington Constitution gives political parties a role in replacement of legislators, even though the constitution is absolutely silent on how legislators are elected in the first place (other than from districts).

    BAD, BAD, BAD Washington Constitution. Remove the vacancy provisions from the constitution. Restore the constitution to its 1889 pure form, or let the legislature devise the method of temporary replacements by statute.

    There is nothing in Washington statute that defines the procedure for filling legislative and vacancies in partisan county offices. It is entirely spelled out in excruciating detail in the much-amended Article 2, Section 15. When counties started making some county offices non-partisan, the legislature explicitly admitted that there was no statutory or constitutional provision (ie “we didn’t even think about that”).

    The constitution does not specify “major party”. It specifies “party”. It would hard to make a case that a “minor party” is not a “party”.

    RCW 29A.80.010 says “Each political party organization may adopt rules governing its own organization and the nonstatutory functions of that organization.”

    Since the statute is silent on the manner in which a minor party selects its county central committee and state committee, presumably it may do create its owns rules for doing so. Washington would lose a case if it claimed that because it had no statutes governing how a minor party organizes other than saying that it may adopt its own rules, that the minor party is somehow precluded from creating a county central committee and state committee according to its own rules.

    In fact, it would make more sense to require a minor party to have a state committee and county central committees (in counties where it might seek to participate in vacancy replacements).

  2. Jim Riley

    The Libertarian Party lawsuit was frivolous. The state court simply took an expeditious course to dismiss it.

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