Could California and Washington Return to the Blanket Primary?

Both California and Washington state are using the type of top-two system which gives voters only two choices in the election itself. Proponents of top-two primaries might be satisfied if California and Washington returned to using a blanket primary. California used a blanket primary in 1998 and 2000; Washington state used it 1934 through 2002. In a blanket primary, all candidates run on a single primary ballot and all voters use the same primary ballot. Then, the top vote-getter from the ranks of each party appear on the November ballot.

It is true the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated California’s blanket primary in 2000. However, in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to feel that the freedom of association problem with either a top-two primary or a blanket primary can be overcome if the state prints a candidate’s party “preference” on the ballot, and if the ballot carries language warning voters that parties don’t have nominees. There is no logical reason why those tweaks could not be made to the blanket primary. That would have the virtue of restoring a broad range of choices for votes in November. For instance, if California has used a blanket primary in 2012, the November ballot would have carried these names and labels on the ballot: “Dianne Feinstein, prefers Democratic Party; Elizabeth Emken, prefers Republicans Party; Gail Lightfoot, prefers Libertarian Party; Marsha Feinland, prefers Peace & Freedom Party; Don J. Grundmann, prefers American Independent Party.”

Alaska uses a blanket primary, although only the Democratic, Libertarian, and Alaskan Independence Parties participate in the blanket primary; the Republicans have their own separate primary ballot.


Could California and Washington Return to the Blanket Primary? — 33 Comments

  1. California’s blanket primary treated independent candidates differently than Washington state’s blanket primary. California’s blanket primary let independent candidates petition onto the November ballot. Washington state’s blanket primary had them run in the primary, where they had to get 1% in order to be on the November ballot.

  2. Why didn’t the Supreme Court say that Alaska’s blanket primary was unconstitutional? What is different about theirs?

  3. Blanket primaries are not unconstitutional if no political party objects to them. In Alaska, not only did the Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, and Alaskan Independence Parties not object to a blanket primary, they actually won a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court demanding a blanket primary.

    The legislature had mandated open or semi-open primaries, but the four parties that liked the blanket primary sued the state and won, under the theory that political parties have a First Amendment right to choose their nomination procedure (as an aside, the Green Party is no longer a qualified party in Alaska).

  4. IMO:

    1. If a blanket primary is used, parties and independent candidates should have the choice to opt out.

    2. Parties should have veto power over candidates using their party label in any blanket primary.

    3. If a party opts out, it should nominate in any manner its rules allow (e.g. own self-financed primary, own convention, or own on-line voting method).

  5. What language in the U.S.A. Const says that X percent of the voters in a State have a RIGHT to have their robot party hack candidates on the Nov general election ballots ???

    Still waiting for an answer since 1968.
    SCOTUS is brain dead about basic election stuff.

    PUBLIC nominations by ALL or SOME of the PUBLIC voters according to PUBLIC L-A-W-S.

    The 2000 SCOTUS opinion is one more piece of legal JUNK.

  6. If I understand this correctly, parties would not have nominees, but the (maximum) number of candidates in November would equal the number of ballot-qualified parties. Even if top two doesn’t contribute to voter confusion, this scheme certainly would.

    I don’t think this would be acceptable to the proponents of top two. Non-partisan elections seem to be only one of their objectives. The other seems to be to present the voters with a head-to-head contest between exactly two candidates. Otherwise they would be fine with conventional two-round runoff (as long as it is non-partisan).

  7. In Washington, the number of candidates on the general election ballot was not equal to the number of ballot-qualified parties. To to get the general election, a minor party candidate had to poll at least 1% of the vote in the blanket primary, as I recall.

  8. #9 is correct. Also there were many instances when no one from one of the ballot-qualified parties entered the primary. The Reform Party was a ballot-qualified party in 1998 in Washington state, but only two members from that party filed for the primary for US House, and only 5 for the legislature.

  9. Political Parties should have the right to choose their own candidates to run. The state has no business in internal political party affairs. For it to meddle in these affairs is an affront to basic civil liberties, including the right to associate and the right to privacy.

    Top-two, “blanket,” and state-run party primaries and such should be abolished permanently. See the Copenhagen Document of the Helsinki Accords.

  10. If only one person can qualify per political gang, and each political gang is guaranteed to advance a candidate to the secondary election, it is indiscernible from a nomination, which Justice Scalia said was the critical problem with the blanket primary.

    It sounds like you would be happy with a system like Louisiana where the Open Primary can be decisive. Now that 15% of representatives are chosen using an Open Primary system, Congress should let States hold a possibly decisive open primary in October.

    Of course, there is no legal problem with state legislative and statewide offices being decided in June.

  11. #4 The Alaska Supreme Court found that the Alaska Constitution provided greater protection of political association rights than does the 1st Amendment. Without such a ruling, the political parties would have been stuck with hoping the legislature passed something that they liked.

    A State can voluntarily permit political parties to allow voters from selected other parties vote in their primary (eg Idaho), but they don’t have to do so (eg Oklahoma).

  12. 1. How would write-ins work in blanket primaries?
    2. Taxpayers who can not take part in a primary system should not have to pay for it. So parties should run their own selection processes. Then on the blanket primary, their endorsed candidate should have a indication next to their name of this fact.
    3. Why two from each party? How would you handle one party candidatw with most of the votes in that party?
    4. In any new system, the party qualification process wouls also have to change.

  13. #14, write-ins would be no different than any other votes. California used write-ins during the blanket primaries years. The party membership of write-in candidates is known to election officials. In 2012 the Peace & Freedom Party had 3 candidates who were write-ins in June 2012, and because they each came in 2nd (because only one person appeared on the ballot) they appeared on the November 2012 with the label “Peace & Freedom.”

    #12, people wouldn’t be qualifying “from a political gang”. Just because a person says he prefers a political party does not mean he or she is a member of that party. That is why Washington state’s top-two system wasn’t thrown out. Even supporters of top-two, like yourself, forget the true meaning of “prefers”. That is a potential legal flaw in the existing California top-two system, by the way. Unlike Washington state, California won’t let a candidate “prefer” a party if that candidate isn’t a member. That California characteristic has not been challenged in court.

  14. #15 Washington does not maintain membership records of its parties. But when the 9th circuit overturned its blanket primary, it ruled that voters considered themselves to be members of a party, even though there was no public disclosure or records of that membership. On that basis, it said that there was no material difference from the system in California where there was public disclosure and records.

    Washington continues not to maintain membership records of its parties. But that does not mean a potential candidate does not consider himself to be a member of a party, even though he does not disclose his preference until he files as a candidate.

    California requires its candidates to have disclosed their party preference as a voter prior to becoming a candidate with that preference.

  15. Credible obsevations like this are truly helpful for those that are or will communicate with legislators on how the top two scheme might be dumped.

    If a legislator proposed that a primary now be one where approval voting is used among all candidates and the number of candidates that appear on the general election ballot was the average votes cast by a voter times two or half the number of candidates receiving at least a 1,000 votes or more, whichever is less. Would the greatest unjust aspect of such a plan be nearly as great as the lack of justice in a top two arrangement?

  16. What is your rationale for advancing the 8th (Lightfoot), 13th (Feinland), and 16th (Grundmann) candidates, in addition to the Top 2 candidates to the general election?

  17. #18, the rationale is so that voters in the election itself could vote for someone who represents them on policy issues. Senator Feinstein is one of the most anti-legal marijuana members of Congress, and Elizabeth Emken has no interest in changing the legal status of marijuans. There are many other issues as well on which Feinstein and Emken do not share ideas with many voters. Voting is about letting voters express themselves.

  18. What is your rationale for advancing the 9th (Lightfoot), 14th (Feinland), and 18th (Grundmann) candidates, in addition to the Top 2 candidates to the general election?

  19. #19 What is your rationale for excluding Dan Hughes, who received 3.2 times as many votes as Lightfoot, 5.6 times as many as Feinland, and 9.8 times as many times as Grundmann.

    Sorry about the mixup on the ranking. Why doesn’t your Secretary of State order candidate results by votes cast?

  20. Because they represent different parties, different ideologies.

    The way it should work is that every party should have one candidate on the actual ballot that can elect someone to office right then and there, with a very minimal petition or filing fee. If no one gets 50% plus one then runoff election. Or use approval voting.

    Independents who choose not to have any party label can complete the same petition or filing fee (their choice which one) as an entire party would.

    The parties should each nominate their candidates any way they want to, but they should not be allowed to charge the taxpayers for it. In other words if they can afford to have a primary and want to do it fine, but they have to pay for it themselves and run it themselves. If they want to allow people who are not dues paying and/or registered members of their party vote in their primary great. If not then fine too. If they want to have a convention, and let everyone vote or only let members vote or the chairman gets to make a unilateral decision…doesn’t matter. Their party, their rules.

    Anyone that doesn’t like any existing party labels or rules starts a new party or runs independent. The party labels always only go to the candidates that those parties want representing them, using whatever method they choose to insure that, so there is no mislabeling on the ballot and the party names actually mean something. It should be very easy to start and qualify a new party.

    The important thing here is to make sure all voters have the choice of every party (with meaningful control of who runs under their label) and ideology that makes a minimal effort to qualify IN THE ACTUAL ELECTION WHERE SOMEONE CAN WIN RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Otherwise the election is a sham and a fraud, with people who have less than the most popular ideologies locked out and ballot labels rendered meaningless.

    The runoff or approval vote is a good addition because it allows someone to vote in the first round and vote their conscience – not to worry that they have to vote for one of the top two choices or “spoil” the election or “waste” their vote. Then if there is a runoff they can still vote for the lesser of two evils as they see it, or if it is approval voting they can approve whichever candidates they don’t find unacceptable.

    What we have otherwise, like in California, is an absolute travesty and a disgrace. We can only hope that either the courts throw it out or the voters repeal it.

    And that goes for Washington State also.

    Why do we want to have meaningless choices in the actual elections between two candidates with the same ideology, or with ballot mislabels that do not reflect their actual ideology, or with a very narrow range of differences in their ideas? That is completely bogus.

    So the special interests that passed this scheme should be exposed, shamed, and boycotted. They should be embarrassed into publicly admitting that they hoodwinked the voters to line their own pockets and destroy any real opposition in the bud. Then they should apologize if they want to stay in business or have anyone read, watch or listen to them, or ever vote for them ever again if they are politicians, which no one should after what they did.

    Now that you know please make sure everyone else does too.

  21. #21, Mr. Hughes chose to register into the Republican Party, so he appeared on the ballot as “Prefers Republican Party.” The Republican platform takes stands on many issues, and Mr. Hughes knew that when he chose to join that party and chose to run for partisan office, he would be perceived as supporting the Republican Party platform. But the voters who wanted to vote for the Republican Party already had Elizabeth Emken to vote for.

  22. NO robot party hack primaries are needed — or wanted — since they produce mostly robot party hack extremists.

    P.R. and nonpartisan App.V.
    Equal nominating petitions for all candidates for the same office in the same area.

  23. That’s up to the parties. They should decide for themselves how to choose their nominees so long as the nominees are willing and technically qualified.

    As for extremists who said that’s a bad thing? Why do we want bland meaningless choices to be the only ones people get to have? No thanks.

  24. #22 “Because they represent different parties, different ideologies.”

    Why should the state of California care if the candidates represent different parties and ideologies? Should the state of California make sure that there are also candidates of different religions, races, ethnicities, sex, income level, age, and marital status?

    Maybe California should require candidates to state their opinion on certain issues, such as term limits on the ballots. Or test the voters to make sure they are making their choice based on political issues articulated by the candidates.

    Or why not simply let any candidate gather a modest number of signatures (say 65) and let them appear on the ballot. If a group wants to support a candidate they are free to do so.

  25. #23 Lisa Murkowsi was a registered Republican, as was Joe Miller. They both knew that they would be perceived as supporting the Republican Party platform.

    Why should Murkowski have been permitted to run in the general election since the voters who wanted the Republican Party already had Joe Miller to vote for? Alternatively, why should Lisa Murkowski have had to run as a write-in candidate – how is that situation any different than in US Term Limits?

    If Alaska had a Top 2 Open Primary, Murkowski and Miller might well have both qualified for the general election.

  26. Why should the state of California care if the candidates (that) represent different parties and ideologies (are allowed to be on the ballot that can actually elect someone)?

    Because they don’t want to be a fascist dictatorship of one or two very similar ideologies …or at least keep it from being obvious? You ask some really stupid questions.

    The state of california doesn’t care about anything. The people should care that their right to vote for more than tweedle dee and tweedle dum in actual meaningful elections is being stripped. And do something, like grab some pitchforks and torches and bring those responsible for this to justice.

  27. Or why not simply let any candidate gather a modest number of signatures (say 65) and let them appear on the ballot.


    Just so long as it is an actual election – that is, one in which if someone gets 50% plus one OR the largest number of approval votes they are automatically elected with no further rounds of voting – that would be fine.

    Runoff ONLY if no one gets a majority.

    No problem.

    And the parties would have to control who gets to use their label. If you don’t agree with a party’s rules for getting to use their label get 65 signatures or pay 65 dollars and make up a new label. Or if you don’t like any label be listed as independent.

    That would be fine.

    But meaningless ballot labels are not.

    And relegating meaningful choices to only appear in meaningless events that can’t even properly be called elections (since they can’t elect anyone). Not fine at all.

    Those who pulled this bait and switch on the people need to be brought to justice.

  28. #30 Why should the State of California print party information on the ballot?

    Before the adoption of the Australian ballot, voters would simply write the name of the candidate they favored on a piece of paper and drop it in the ballot box. Those who wanted a secret ballot would keep it close to their vest (fill the ballot at home and put it in their vest pocket, and withdraw it at the polling place).

    Political parties would encourage voters to write the name of their candidate on their ballot. After courts ruled that printing of names on the ballot, included mechanical printing, political parties would prepare ballots. Newspapers might also print ballots which included names of often-mentioned candidates, but they might use their editorial judgement to exclude some candidates. Printers who were unscrupulous might change the names on the ballots they were printing, or different factions might support different slates of candidates. Parties might make fake ballots – perhaps claiming to be an Obama ballot, but with the names of Romney electors, or Republican down-ballot candidates.

    The parties would be printed with color (blue or red were popular) so that poll watchers could see who voted for who. There might be a free lunch available if you took a party ballot and voted it. Party toughs would try to prevent distribution of opposition ballots (lawyers such as Toby Moffett and Elizabeth Holtzman now perform this function). Since voters would bring self-prepared ballots to the polling place, they might fold several inside each other and stuff the ballot box.

    The intent of the Australian ballot was to eliminate these abuses. The original version in South Australia included two signatures, that of the nominator and that of the seconder. When the Australian ballot was first proposed in New York, the governor vetoed it, saying that it would eliminate the ability of what he referred to as “self nomination” – the ability to vote for anyone. His concerns were dismissed, because of the claim that it would be trivial to get on the ballot.

    We can see that he was right.

    Now you want you to turn control of the ballot over to private organizations. Do you that when some Pennsylvania Democratic County organizations printed ballots with a mix of Breckinridge and Douglas electors, and others did Douglas only it was the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s job to get the con-fusion sorted out?

    How is Debra Bowen supposed to know that John Burton speaks for the “Democratic Party” or that CT Weber speaks for the “Peace & Freedom Party”. If you want your system, then take the party names off the ballot completely.

    If the “Democratic Party” wishes wants to support Diane Feinstein let them pay for the advertizing. Let them distribute sample ballots so that the loyalists know who to vote for.

    Or let candidates pay for printing a slogan on the ballot. 65 signatures and a filing fee gets your name and occupation on the ballot. $123,000 or 95,000 signatures gets a candidate slogan on the ballot (that is $0.01 per ballot, or in lieu of signatures worth 10 minutes of minimum wage).

    Since California won’t need a partisan primary any more, they can move the general election to October, with a November runoff.

    I doubt you will be happy, though.

  29. I have an idea. Invite third party candidates in the major party primaries. I always dreamed of what would happen if Perot had run in 92 as both a Democrat and Republican in the primaries.

  30. Obtaining ballot access is a lot of hard work, but even if it weren’t, I do not want interlopers claiming they share my political values when, in fact, they may not.

    This has been a huge issue in Arizona, where in nearly every election, some Republican-funded sock puppet is put up as a Green, thinking votes for this “Green” candidate will bleed some votes away from the Democrats.

    What is idiotic, of course, is that voters should first understand what each party stands for (if anything!). They should also take a look at the candidate’s political resume (if they have one!). That would make this practice nearly useless to outside manipulators who fund these sock puppets.

    But until the day when our voting electorate is knowledgeable enough about how the system actually works, who *ALL* of the parties are and what they stand for, and have the conscientiousness to objectively evaluate the different positions of these parties, much (but not all) of the discussion above will continue to be the norm.

    Again, I do not want my party’s ballot line filled by anyone who has not been nominated by my party. Government must not be legislating our rights, nor do I want the general public determining the candidates for my party. I especially do not want “independents” and members of competing parties helping to determine who we will be allowed to run in the general election.

    I/we have the right to do whatever our party wants to do, in whatever manner we feel is most appropriate. So does every other party and their membership. People have the right to create a party anywhere they want at any time, based on the simple Constitutional principle of free association.

    If some people don’t like the candidates existing parties put up, start your own political party, just like the others did. Yes, it is a LOT of hard work to get ballot access, not to mention the continuity of the enterprise. If you feel strongly enough about some issue or another, get together with others who share your positions and form a party.

    But never tell me or my party how and what WE must do to please YOU. That is none of your g-d business!

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