Washington to Limit Candidates to One Party

The state Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for Washington state to begin holding primaries that limit voters to one party's ballot for the first time in nearly 70 years.

The high court, acting with unusual haste, turned aside an appeal to scuttle the primary system that Gov. Gary Locke (search) created with an unusual veto on April 1.

Washington has long operated under a blanket primary system in which all candidates appeared on one ballot and the top finisher from each party advanced to the general election. But federal courts have held that such primaries violate political parties' right to pick their own standard-bearers.

Locke replaced blanket primaries with a system like that used in Montana, where candidates appear on separate primary ballots but voters choose which ballot to cast.

The state Grange, a grass-roots farm group that was the original sponsor of Washington's blanket primary decades ago, argued Thursday that Locke's veto violated the state constitution.

"It was illegal. It was crafty," Grange attorney James Johnson told justices.

No vote or opinions were issued with the ruling. The first primary held under the new system will be in September.

A jubilant Locke said the ruling ensured voters maximum choice in the November general election. A rival plan would have doomed minor parties and could have disenfranchised many voters by advancing finalists from the same party to the November runoff, he said.

"I was acting on behalf of the voter," the governor told a news conference.

The Grange said the order ensures a disastrous primary election in September.

"This will be Locke's legacy," Johnson said. "Voters will recoil at having to pick a party ballot and 20 to 30 percent of the ballots will be voided" when voters mistakenly or purposely mark more than one ballot.