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Primary is first under state's Top Two system

This year's Aug. 19 primary election for which the ballots were mailed July 30 will be the first under the state's new "Top Two" primary system approved by the state's voters in November 2004 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in March.

The new system means voters will be voting for the person instead of the party as the state's voters had done from 1935 when the "blanket primary" was adopted by citizen initiative until that was declared unconstitutional in September 2003.

Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand said Sequim voters will notice something else new as well.

"New to Sequim voters will be the envelopes for mailing the ballots. Due to a change in printers, the envelopes have a new design," she said.

"It may take a moment to read the instructions on how to cover your signature and to seal the envelope. The new design better protects the voter's signature and is less likely to be torn in the mailing process," Rosand said.

The new envelopes were used in Port Angeles in May for a school levy election with great success, she said.

"The ballot has candidates and issues on both sides. I would like to remind voters to turn over the ballot and vote both sides," Rosand said.

Rosand said voters who did not receive ballots for the primary by Aug. 4 should contact the County Auditor's office at 417-2217 for a replacement.

According to the Washington State Secretary of State's Office, voters do not have to declare a party affiliation to vote in this election nor vote for only one party's candidates.

Voters will choose among all candidates running for each partisan office and the two who receive the most votes will qualify for the general election in November - regardless of political party and even if one wins more than 50 percent of the vote.

(Candidates also must receive at least 1 percent of the votes cast in that race to advance to the general election.)

In a race with only two candidates, those people would face each other on the Aug. 19 primary election ballot and then again on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

"Under this system it's top two vote getters, so it could be the same two people in both elections," said Shannon Cosgrove, Clallam County elections assistant.

Two people from the same party also could be facing each other in the general election, she said.

The Top Two primary applies to partisan elections, including the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the state Legislature, partisan statewide offices such as governor, and partisan county offices such as county commissioner or county treasurer.

But it does not apply to the presidential election since those candidates are nominated by their respective parties.

It also does not apply to nonpartisan races, such as those for judge, city council, fire district commissioner, school board director or Clallam County Public Utility District commissioner.

Cosgrove said nonpartisan races always have had the top two vote-getters advance from the primary to the general election since none of the candidates are representing a particular party.

So only two of three Clallam PUD commissioner candidates - Hugh Haffner, Tom La Rosa and Bob Jensen - who appear on the Aug. 19 primary election ballot also will appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

Instead of identifying themselves as a member of a particular political party, candidates in this and future primary elections will state their party preference or "states no party preference."

But according to the Secretary of State's office, "a candidate's preference does not imply that the candidate is nominated or endorsed by the party, or that the party approves of or associates with that candidate."

Write-in candidates still will be allowed under the Top Two system.

The state's long road to this system of choosing political candidates began in June 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled California's blanket primary was unconstitutional because it violated the political parties' freedom of association.

Then this state's Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties challenged Washington state's blanket primary although they agreed to leave the September 2000 primary unchanged.

In January 2001, Secretary of State Sam Reed released a report on 11 public hearings held across the state to get public comment on potential changes to the blanket primary system. It stated that voters opposed publicly declaring party affiliation and favored retaining the blanket primary.

Then in March 2002, a federal district court judge in Tacoma upheld the state's blanket primary as constitutional, which was appealed by the political parties.

In September 2003, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state's blanket primary was unconstitutional because it violated the political parties' right of free association, the same as the California decision. The state and the Washington State Grange petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision that November.

The Washington State Grange filed Initiative 872 in January 2004 to establish the "Top Two" primary election system where the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation.

In February 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the 9th Circuit decision declaring the state's blanket primary to be unconstitutional, which meant the ruling stood.

Then Gov. Gary Locke vetoed portions of a bill that would have reinstated the blanket primary and as a result a "pick-a-party" nominating primary was implemented for the September 2004 primary election.

In November 2004, the state's voters approved I-872 to establish a blanket primary by a 60 percent "yes" vote.

The Washington State Republican Party filed a lawsuit in May 2005 in U.S. District Court to overturn I-872, once again stating the proposed primary system violates the party's right to free association.

In July 2005, the federal court agreed with the Republican Party, striking down the Top Two primary and mandated a return to the "pick-a-party" primary system used in the 2004 election.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision in August 2006 but that decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices heard oral arguments in October 2007 and released their 7-2 decision upholding the state's Top Two primary on March 18, 2008.

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