Saturday, March 30, 2002

Bungle in the Jungle

So Washington State can have a blanket primary but California can't? California's blanket (or "jungle") primary law went down to a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court defeat in 2000, yet a District Court judge decided this week that because there was no history of requiring voters to register by party in Washington, the primary system in that state could stand. Hmm. California has told people they had to register by party in the past, so a blanket primary now is unconstitutional. Washington state lets people register with affiliating themselves, so a blanket primary is fine for them.

But the two factors in this decision were a) whether the state parties were unduly burdened by people who weren't party members voting in their primaries and b) whether the state had a compelling interest in keeping the primaries as open as possible. The parties worry about people from other parties voting strategically in their primary for the least viable candidate. But isn't that just as likely in one state as they other? And on the second point, why would the state have a compelling interest to keep primaries open in Washington but not in California? Yes, California's system was closed tighter than Washington's had been. But if blanket primaries are a good idea for any state, wouldn't that mean that California needs that kind of openness even more that Washington, whose primaries were fairly open to begin with? This seems to suggest that when it comes to election law, a state is even more bound by precedent than a court is.

Incidentally, I'm inclined to agree with the three parties (Republicans, Democrats, an Libertarians) that a blanket primary does in fact infringe on their right to freedom of association. There's a strong argument that no state should be allowed to have a blanket primary. The fact that the District Court judge relied so heavily on past registration practices, however, seems to have produced a troubling contradiction.

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