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Federal court upholds Washington "Top 2" primary

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January 14, 2011

By Kyle Maichle

SEATTLE, Washington: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state's major political parties by upholding the state's "Top 2" primary.[1]

Judge John Coughenour upheld the constitutionality of the popular primary format on January 11, 2011. In his ruling, Coughenor said that the "Top Two" primary: "is constitutional because the ballot and accompanying information eliminate the possibility of widespread confusion among the reasonable, well-informed electorate.” Coughenor also struck down the election of political party precinct officers in his ruling.[1]

In a written statement, Attorney General Rob McKenna applauded the judge's ruling. McKenna said: "today’s ruling is great news for the independence of elections in the state of Washington...The Secretary of State’s Office did an exceptional job in following the Court’s guidance and conducting the Top 2 Primary in a clear and Constitutional way.” Secretary of State Sam Reed said: "I am absolutely delighted with this great and sweeping victory for the voters of Washington state." The Secretary of State also defended the "Top 2" primary saying that: "it keeps voters in the driver’s seat in choosing their finalists for office in this state and it honors our wonderful political heritage of allowing us to vote for our favorite candidate for each office without regard to party preference.”[1]

The "Top 2" primary was created in 2004 as a result of voter approval of I-872. I-872 came in response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling the state's blanket primary system unconstitutional in 2003. The first legal battle came in 2005 when the state's political parties filed suit against Washington elections officials in federal court.[1] The case ended up all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation's highest court upheld the primary format in 2008 on a 7-2 ruling. McKenna argued the case on behalf of the state in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.[1]

The state's political parties filed a new lawsuit in 2008 claiming that the primary format confuses voters. There has been no announcement made if an appeal will be filed in the Ninth Circuit.[1]

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