[Homestead] change the rules : one more way to win an election :
tonihawr at msn.com
Thu Aug 26 12:48:13 EDT 2004
Voters vent anger over party-line primary ballots
By NEIL MODIE
The Seattle Post Intelligencer
USA - "This is as un-American as you can get," an indignant voter fumed in a scalding e-mail.
"You have lost my primary vote," declared another voter, reacting, like the first, to Washington's new primary election system.
"I have never voted party line, and I'll not be strong-armed into party line now!" another wrote.
"We will NEVER vote again," vowed another.
Those were some of the nicer e-mails -- the milder-mannered and non-profane ones -- that poured into the office of Secretary of State Sam Reed in the past week. And that was before voters had even seen the unfamiliar new ballots, meaning that the anger might intensify when they receive absentee ballots that went into the mail starting yesterday.
The gusher of angry correspondence came from citizens upon whom it finally dawned that the state's popular, wide-open, 7-decade-old "blanket" primary is dead. The outpouring was triggered by the mass mailing of a state guide to the new primary, including a warning that cross-ballot votes will be invalidated.
No longer will voters be able to skip back and forth across the primary ballot, voting for a Democrat for one office, a Republican for another and a Libertarian for still another.
In the Sept. 14 primary, voters will have to choose a single party affiliation -- Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or independent -- and pick from among only that party's candidates.
The party choice will be confidential, and no party registration is required. But any vote outside the chosen party will be invalidated, and a failure to mark a party preference can invalidate the entire ballot.
At a Seattle news conference yesterday, Reed, the state's chief elections officer, predicted that public anger over the new system will diminish voter turnout by 10 percent. For a presidential year primary, it typically is 41 percent to 45 percent of those registered.
Dean Logan, director of King County records, elections and licensing services, is a little more optimistic. He reasoned that the state's $1.7 million voter-education campaign for the new primary, and all the attention the change has generated, might trigger additional voter turnout that counterbalances the voter anger.
Logan expects the King County turnout to be at the higher end of normal, which is about 37 percent to 41 percent.
"I think when you're talking about a significant change like what's taken place in the primary, you are going to hear from the people who are upset about it," he said. "You're not going to hear from people who have accepted the change or who are in agreement with it."
In the week after the Secretary of State's Office mailed guides explaining the new primary, it received 6,546 phone calls and "a few thousand e-mails and letters" from voters, the overwhelming majority of them angry, Reed said. In one 24-hour period, more than 2,000 calls came in.
"I think we're going to receive a much stronger reaction when they receive their ballots," he said.
Voters in six counties -- King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Chelan and Klickitat -- will be given a single primary ballot and be required to choose one party and vote for only that party's candidates. In the other 33 counties, voters will receive four ballots -- one for each of the three major parties and for independents -- and be told to discard three of them.
The secretary of state had an urgent message for voters: Don't express your indignation by refusing to vote. Besides the partisan races on the ballot will be non-partisan races for state school superintendent and judgeships at all levels of the judicial system -- including a number of races that will be decided in the primary.
In such an important election year, "I think it is imperative that the people of this state make this effort" to vote, Reed said.
Reed, who is running for re-election this fall, also had another, equally urgent message for the voters: Don't blame him.
The shoot-the-messenger tendency of some angry voters came through in e-mails. For example, one voter wrote this to Reed, a Republican: "What kind of B.S. is this ... I am an independent and will always be one. You must be a Democrat."
Another, unidentified voter e-mailed: "How dare you take away my right to VOTE ... You are lucky I don't vote for you because I would vote NO!"
Reed said blame for the new, single-party-ballot primary lies elsewhere: with the state Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties, who got the blanket primary declared unconstitutional in a federal lawsuit, and Gov. Gary Locke, who on April Fools' Day partial-vetoed a bill that would have given Washington a Louisiana-style "top two" primary.
"I share (voters') emotions. I fought to protect the blanket primary," Reed said. "... I think the place to direct this (anger) is at the political parties."
State Rep. Laura Ruderman, D-Redmond, who is running against Reed, thinks he is partly to blame for voters' ire because of his "barrage of negative statements" about the new, Montana-style primary, which the secretary of state opposed.
Reed's personal preference is a "top two" primary that would send the two highest primary vote-getters, even if both from the same party, to the general election ballot. Initiative 872, on the November ballot, would replace the new, single-party-ballot system with the "top two" system starting in 2005, but the parties have threatened to sue if it passes.
Ruderman repeatedly ducked when asked which primary system she favors, saying she didn't think a candidate for secretary of state should state a preference although suggesting I-872 might be unconstitutional. But she said voter anger has been exacerbated by "how confusing" the secretary of state's voter-education mailing is and his "negative leadership" on the issue.
P-I reporter Neil Modie can be reached at 206-448-8321 or neilmodie at seattlepi.com
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