The Washington Secretary of State has asked the legislature to clarify the definition of a ballot-qualified party. The existing law says that it is a party that polled at least 5% for any statewide nominee, but parties no longer have nominees in Washington state, except for President. The Libertarian Party brought a lawsuit last year, alleging that even the Republican Party was no longer ballot-qualified because it had no nominee for U.S. Senate in 2010 (in 2010, U.S. Senate was the only statewide race on the ballot). The Libertarian Party lost the lawsuit because the court ruled that because the Republicans had endorsed a U.S. Senate candidate, that satisfied the requirement.
Nevertheless, the existing law is quite awkward, so the Secretary of State is asking the legislature to pass SB 5518 and HB 1157, identical bills that define a qualified party to be a party that polled 5% for President at the last presidential election. HB 1157 passed the House Government Operations & Election Committee on February 7.
The problem with the Secretary of State’s approach is that it precludes a party that never runs for President from ever being a qualified party in Washington state. There are many qualified one-state political parties in the U.S. that have never had a presidential candidate and never want to have one, because they only care about state and local politics. There is no case law on whether a state can exclude a party with no interest in presidential elections from being a qualified party, but it would seem a one-state party with no interest in the presidential election would have a strong complaint. Thanks to Linde Knighton for this news.
Washington state doesn’t use the term “qualified party” in its election law; it uses the term “major party.” In Washington, only major parties are entitled to choose party officers in the primary, and to participate in choosing a new legislator when there is a legislative vacancy and the past legislator was a member of that party.