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Washington Top Two Primaries, Initiative 872 (2004)

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The Top Two Primary Initiative, also known as Initiative 872, was on the November 2, 2004 ballot in Washington as an Initiative to the People, where it was approved. The measure changed the way that partisan primary and general elections in Washington are conducted by replacing the system of separate primaries for each party with a system in which all candidates for each partisan office appear together on the primary ballot. Candidates are permitted to express a party preference or declare themselves independents, and their preference or status appears on the ballot.

The primary ballot includes all candidates filing for the office, including major party and minor party candidates and independents. Voters are permitted to vote for any candidate for any office, and are not limited to a single party. The general election ballot is limited to the two candidates who received the most votes for each office in the primary, regardless of whether these two candidates are or the same or different parties.


Lawsuit by Political Parties

Following the approval of Initiative 872, the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian Parties of Washington filed a suit against the new law.[1][2]

Reasons for the lawsuit can be found here:

On July 15, 2005, the District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of the political parties, thus stopping the state or any political subdivision from implementing or enforcing Initiative 872.[3]

The state appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth District, where the court upheld the lower court's decision on August 22, 2006. Furthermore, the court required the State of Washington to pay the legal fees of the political parties: $55,097 for the GOP, $37,673 for the Democrats and $16,301 for the Libertarians.[4]

The state then appealed the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, where the court ruled in favor of the State of Washington and ordered the political parties to repay the state on March 18, 2008[5]

Election results

Initiative 872 (2004)
Approveda Yes 1,632,225 59.85%

Election results via: Washington Secretary of State

Text of the measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[6]

Initiative Measure No. 872 concerns elections for partisan offices.

This measure would allow voters to select among all candidates in a primary. Ballots would indicate candidates’ party preference. The two candidates receiving most votes advance to the general election, regardless of party.

Should this measure be enacted into law?[7]

Fiscal impact statement

The 2004 State of Washington Voters Pamphlet lists the fiscal impact statement as follows:[8]

Summary of Fiscal Impact

Initiative 872 would authorize a primary election allowing the two candidates with the most votes to advance to the general election, regardless of political party, starting with the primary election in September 2005. Annual costs for this primary election system could be as much as $6.0 million lower for the state and counties compared to current law. The lower cost of the primary election system is due to ballot size, the number of ballots, and associated processing procedures. One time costs for public education and voter notification of changes in the primary election system may cost the state $1.3 million.

Assumptions for Analysis of I-872

As the State Elections Officer, the Secretary of State is projected to spend up to $1.3 million on one-time costs associated with implementing the new primary system. The most notable one-time cost is a voter outreach campaign to educate voters about changed requirements. The Secretary of State’s Office is expected to spend up to $1 million to conduct a media campaign and up to $305,000 to publish an eight-page primary voter’s pamphlet prior to the primary election in September that explains the primary system changes to voters. Other state one-time costs associated with implementing a new primary are as follows: developing new election processes/procedures; designing a new ballot; and training election and poll-site staff on new processes. The Secretary of State’s Office estimates that they would spend up to $25,000 dollars on these activities.

County auditors, who administer elections at the county level, are expected to save up to $6 million annually for on-going costs associated with implementation of the new primary election system. The state, which reimburses the counties for odd-year primary election costs, would share this cost savings. The current system requires either multiple ballots or a larger consolidated ballot that enables voters to either vote by party for all offices or vote only for nonpartisan offices. The new primary election system reduces ballot publishing and processing costs.[7]



Key supporters of I-872 included:

  • Terry Hunt, president of the Washington State Grange
  • State senator Bill Finkbeiner
  • State representative Brian Hatfield
  • Secretary of State Sam Reed
  • John Stanton, Chair and CEO of Western Wireless
  • State senator Darlene Fairley.

Arguments in favor

These arguments in support appeared in the official State of Washington Voter Guide:[9]


Last year the state party bosses won their lawsuit against the blanket primary, and in 2004 they convinced the Governor to veto legislation allowing voters to continue to vote for any candidate in the primary. Most of us believe this freedom to select any candidate in the primary is a basic right. Don’t be forced to choose from only one party’s slate of candidates in the primary. Vote Yes on I-872.


Under I-872, the two candidates with the most votes in the primary win and go on to the general election ballot. No political party is guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot. Parties will have to recruit candidates with broad public support and run campaigns that appeal to all the voters. That’s fair – and that’s right.


Under I-872, you will never have to declare party or register by party in order to vote in the primary. In the primaries in 2000, the turnout in Washington was more than twice as high as in states with party primaries – because voters in this state could support any candidate on the primary ballot. Vote Yes on I-872.


The September primary this year gave the state party bosses more control over who appears on our general election ballot at the expense of the average voter. I-872 will restore the kind of choice in the primary that voters enjoyed for seventy years with the blanket primary. Protect Washington’s tradition as a state that elects people over party labels. Vote Yes on I-872.

Rebuttal of Statement Against

I-872 gives voters more choices in the primary and better choices in the general. All the voters will decide who is on the November ballot. Whether it’s one Republican and one Democrat, one major and one minor party, or even an Independent — they will be the candidates the voters want the most. The primary and general election should be decided by voters, not by exclusive party organizations that might be dominated by special interests![7]

The argument in support was prepared by Terry Hunt, Bill Finkbeiner, Brian Hatfield, Sam Reed, John Stanton, and Darlene Fairley.


About $725,000 was raised and spent on the campaign in favor of I-872.[10]

Top donors included:

  • Washington State Grange: $678,510
  • John Stanton, $10,000



Key opponents of I-872 included:

  • Judy Golbert, Chair, President of Washington League of Women Voters
  • Gary Locke, a former Governor of Washington
  • Ken Eikenberry, a former Washington Attorney General
  • Jocelyn Langlois, acting chair of the Libertarian Party of Washington
  • Jody Grage Haug, Membership Chair of the Green Party of Washington
  • Joan Thomas, past President of the Seattle League of Women Voters

Arguments against

These arguments in opposition appeared in the official State of Washington Voter Guide:[11]


Vote No on I-872! Don’t be fooled. I-872 creates a Louisiana-style primary that would sharply reduce your choices in general elections. Over a third of the statewide and congressional candidates who appeared on the general election ballot in 2000 would have been eliminated in the primary if I-872 had been the law.

Third Parties and Independents Eliminated: If I-872 is passed, third parties, minor parties and even independents will be eliminated from the general election ballot, leaving (in most cases) one Republican and one Democrat. In November 2000, 180,000 voters who voted for third party candidates in the general election would never have had that choice if I-872 had been the law. Insulating the top two political parties from competition is a bad idea. Single-Party Elections Will Result: Under I-872 many voters will not be able to vote for a candidate that represents their philosophy because the two top vote-getters in a race may be of the same party resulting in only one party being represented on the November ballot. In one-third of the races for Governor in the last twenty-five years, I-872 would have resulted in two general election gubernatorial candidates from the same party. In fact, the voters’ ultimate choice for Governor in 1980, John Spellman, would never have appeared on the November ballot.

We urge you to preserve Washington’s independent, multi-partisan election system by voting No on I-872.

For more information, call 206.652.8904 or visit

Rebuttal of Argument For

The League of Women Voters and many others believe I-872 is bad for Washington. I-872 does not “restore the kind of choice” voters had in the past. It reduces everybody’s choice in the general election.

It decreases general election ballot diversity by eliminating third party candidates and independents. Some November ballots may have choices from only one party for an office.

Support good government and general election choices. Vote No on I-872.[7]


The campaign in opposition to I-872 spent about $55,000.[12]

Most of the donors were Democratic and Republican party committees, including the state committees of each party. The largest single donor in opposition was the Democratic Party of Washington State, which gave $33,900 to the effort to defeat 872.

Path to the ballot

Initiative 872 was filed on January 8, 2004 by Terry Hunt of the Washington State Grange. Signatures were collected to qualify it for the ballot. The measure was placed on the ballot as provided for by the state constitution.[13]

See also

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