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.