Olympia, Washington Newspaper Story on “Top-Two” Impact on Minor Parties

The April 8 Olympian (daily newspaper for Washington state’s capital city) has this story about the probable effect of the “top-two” primary on minor parties. The story also covers plans by the Democratic Party to hold endorsement conventions. But, as the story notes, nothing on a Washington state primary or general election ballot will reveal which Democrat has been endorsed by the party.

One aspect of “top-two” is not covered by the story. Washington state permits write-ins in primaries and general elections. Although the state has a procedure for a write-in candidate to file a declaration of write-in candidacy, Washington state election law says that if the vote-counting equipment indicates that any write-in candidate may have outpolled someone whose name is printed on the ballot, the write-ins must be counted, whether the write-in candidate filed a write-in declaration of candidacy or not.

It is very likely that there will be federal and state offices in which the two top vote-getters will both be Democrats, or will both be Republicans. That will inevitably lead to strong write-in candidacies in the general election, on behalf of someone from the major party that otherwise won’t have anyone running. Although Washington state law says no one who was defeated in a primary may file a write-in declaration of candidacy, that doesn’t stop a primary loser from running in the general election. And write-ins for such a person will be counted if the vote-counting equipment senses they may have outpolled someone listed on the ballot.

In a race with 2 Democrats on the November ballot, a write-in Republican could win in November with as little as 34% of the vote, if the two Democrats are evenly divided. Of course, the same is true in reverse, if two Republicans are on the November ballot and Democrats sponsor a write-in candidate. Elections officials know that it costs much more work and money to count write-in votes, than votes for candidates listed on ballots. The “top-two” system may prove troublesome to elections officials, if indeed it is responsible for a raft of strong write-in campaigns.

Louisiana, the only other state that has a “top-two” system, banned write-ins in 1975 when it instituted “top-two” for state office, so Louisiana experience is not comparable.


Olympia, Washington Newspaper Story on “Top-Two” Impact on Minor Parties — No Comments

  1. The party hacks can endorse whomever — will have NO effect on independent candidates and voters — who will send party hack extremists to the political history junk yard (or unemployment lines).

    Next reform –

    NO public primaries, caucuses and conventions.

    ONLY equal nominating petitions for ballot access in ONE [general] election.

    Proportional Representation for legislative body elections.

    Total Votes / Total Seats = EQUAL votes needed for each seat winner (via vote transfers using candidate rank order lists).

    Approval Voting for executive / judicial nonpartisan elections.

    Put the EVIL party hack *leaders* totally OUT of their EVIL leftwing / rightwing extremist agenda businesses.

    Banning write-ins is a blatant violation of 14th Amdt, Sec. 2. Way too difficult for armies of MORON lawyers to understand.

  2. I think you are misreading WSC 29A.60.021.

    (4) Says that the write-in votes for non-ballot candidates must be tabulated if the total write-in votes and undervotes could lead to a write-in candidate qualifying for the general election (ie be in the top 2) or win the general election.

    It is quite unlikely that an undeclared write-in candidate will win a general election – or that all the write-in votes will need to be tabulated to confirm that fact. A more likely scenario is in the primary where there is only one candidate on the ballot. In such a case all the write-in ballots would be tabulated

    (3) Says that the write-in votes for an on-ballot ballot candidate must be tablulated if the total write-in votes, undervotes, and overvotes are sufficient to change a result (ie the difference between 2nd and 3rd in the primary, or 1st and 2nd in the general). It appears to be aimed at voters who mess up their vote for an on-ballot candidate (eg writing the name instead of marking an X next to the name; marking an X AND writing in the name which would be machine-detected as an overvote; or marking a ballot in a non-conventional manner, which would be machine-detected as a undervote).

    Since Washington is mostly mail-in ballots which facilitates write-in voting, it might also hurt organized write-in campaigns since many voters will be unaware of the effort win they fill in their ballot. I think it is far-fetched to think that strong and effective write-in campaigns will be waged.

  3. Write-ins are far fetched, but they do happen up here. Linda Smith won the 1994 Republican primary for US Congress as a write-in. She went on to win the general.

  4. Jim raises an interesting point – if only one candidate files to be on the ballot, do they need to count all the write-in votes to see who else gets on the general election ballot after the primary? Technically one of them would have come in second.

  5. Unless Louisiana has changed: when there’s only one candidate for an office in the “top two” system, that state does not even put that office on the ballot. That candidate is considered elected.

  6. See Foster v. Love, 522 U.S. 67 (1997).

    See 14th Amdt, Sec. 2.

    How many write-ins in 1866-1868 when the 14th Amdt was being ratified ?

    Any non-MORON U.S.A. govt and LA govt lawyers in LA ?

    What change in the solar system has caused just about ALL election law to become sooooo very mysterious — especially in the so-called *brains* of the armies of New Age lawyer MORONS ?

    Too much New Age polluted air, water and food ?

  7. I’ve just re-read RCW 29A.60.021 and RCW 29A.24.311.

    A person may not be a declared write-in candidate in the general election, if he was an on-ballot or a declared write-in candidate at the primary for the same office. IOW, sore losers may not declare as write-in candidates, even if they were only declared write-in candidates in the primary.

    29A.60.020(1) Votes for declared write-in candidates are counted the same as on-ballot candidates. But write-in votes for candidates who have not declared as write-in candidates, but who were declared write-in candidates or on ballot candidates in the primary are not valid. IOW, a sore loser could not declare, but could campaign informally, yet any write-in votes for him would be invalid.

    29A.60.020(3) Potential write-in votes for _on ballot_ candidates are only tallied if they might change the result for the on-ballot candidate. This includes undervotes (where no X was marked, but might have a name written in); write-in votes (where a voter might have written in a candidate’s name rather than simply using an X next to the candidate’s name); or overvotes (where a voter might have used both an X next to the name, and written it in a second time for good measure).

    In a general election between two candidates who prefer the same party, there might be a large number of undervotes by voters who prefer neither candidate. Nonetheless, their ballots would have to be examined for potential write-in votes for one of the two candidates.

    29A.60.020(4) Potential write-in votes for candidates not on the ballot are only tallied if they might affect the result. This includes undervotes (which might have a name written in); and ballots which were marked as write-in.

    I would read this section as requiring a hand count of write-in ballots in any primary which had only one on-ballot candidate, since the 2nd-placed candidate would be a write-in candidate.

    Note that Washington does have a 1% vote requirement for advancing to the general election.

    The scenario that Richard Winger wrote of a defeated Republican candidate running as an informal write-in candidate against two Democrats does not appear to be viable (since the write-in votes for a primary loser are invalid). It might be possible for _another_ Republican to declare as a write-in candidate.

    For example, one could imagine a case where an incumbent faced token opposition from a member of his party, and two candidates from the opposite party. Let’s say with a potential split of A1 (Incumbent) 45%; A2 10%; B1 22%; B2 22%. Before the primary a scandal breaks, and the incumbent loses a large chunk of his support. Some may switch to the challenger from the same party, but he probably wasn’t that strong a candidate in the first place. Some will stick with the incumbent regardless, and small amounts will switch to the candidates of the other party. So you end up with A1(Incumbent) 20%; A2 25%; B1 27%; and B2 27%.

    B1 and B2 go on to the general election. It is at this point that the A Party could step in with a viable replacement candidate (A3) running as a declared write-in and could win the general election against split voting of the B Party.

    In the case of an open seat, where a split vote results in two candidates of the B Party, there might not be a particular opportunity for the A Party, since presumably their strongest candidates already contested the primary. An on-ballot candidate for one office can not declare as a write-in candidate for another. So a state legislator might not be able to switch to a run for Congress.

  8. Grayman: Though in the case of Linda Smith, it was a Democrat-held seat, so the Republican primary was the equivalent of a race for an open seat. One of the Republican candidates withdrew, and Smith sent out 150,000 mailings explaining how to cast a write-in ballot. Smith had been a state legislator, and involved in two successful statewide ballot initiatives.

    It is not quite the same as someone who decides not to contest the primary at all, and then decides to run in the general election as a write-in candidate after two or more of his fellow party members split the party vote such that all were eliminated.

  9. Phil #7. I would interpret RCW 29A.60.021 (4) to require the tallying of write-in votes in the case of only one on-ballot candidate in the primary.

    I suppose one could quibble since it says that the write-in and undervotes must be more than those of the candidate “apparently qualified”. But any election official who took that position is likely to lose in court.

  10. OBVIOUSLY there WILL be 2 or more candidates ON the ballots in ALL future top 2 primaries.

    Sorry — NO more party hack *safe* seat gerrymander areas.

    Standard possible problem if a candidate dies or is disqualified after the ballots get printed.

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