Monday, January 05, 2009

Vacancies in the Top 2

The Tacoma News Tribune notes that with the death of some state legislators another weakness of the Top 2 system has come forth. Since parties do not nominate candidates in the Top 2 system, what happens in the event of a vacancy?

Under the pick-a-party system, the blanket primary or Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), filling a vacancy in a partisan position is a straightforward process where the party of the incumbent nominates three people to fill the position. Under the Top 2 system, since the parties do not have control over who appears on the ballot "preferring" their party, does an elected official necessarily belong to the party they "prefer?"

Democratic State Party Chair Dwight Pelz has been suing the state over the Top 2 system for years now. One of his complaints against the system is the inability of the party to control the use of its name. The right of the party to affliate with some candidates and not with others has been rejected by the Supreme Court.

In the Top 2 system, we have situations such as the 36th State Legislative District, where the candidate favored by the Democratic Party (John Burbank) lost to the candidate (Reuven Caryle) who "prefers" the Democratic Party. What would happen if Caryle died? Who would be able to nominate his successor? The situation with vacancies may well give the parties an opportunity to overturn the Top 2 in the courts.

Pelz and Mark Hintz, the other candidate for State Chair of the Democratic Party, will be in Pierce County on January 8 to promote their candidacies. Pelz's record includes a longtime and ongoing effort to overturn the Top 2 system since it weakens the power of the parties.

Pierce County Chair Nathe Lawver has attacked RCV because it gives the parties the power to decide which candidates may use their name. He has stated this gives the parties too much power even though he has the authority to allow anyone who wants to run as a Democrat the ability to do so.

The contrast between Lawver and Pelz on this issue is interesting. Of course, it could all be explained by the possibility that both of them prefer the pick-a-party primary to either the Top 2 or RCV.

Certainly, people who oppose both the Top 2 and RCV are implicitly favoring the pick-a-party primary. Let's hope someone asks Pelz and Lawver if they oppose both the Top 2 and RCV, so that we can see their true stripes.


At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Krist Novoselic said...

If Nathe Lawver means the State Democratic bylaws regarding nominations can be exclusive - I tend to agree.

Precinct Committee Officers (PCO’s) have the power to nominate candidates. Current PCO’s were elected on the August primary public ballot - which, as far as inclusion goes, is the will of the people.

But the same PCO nomination rules apply to the Top-Two system! However, with the Top-Two, a candidate can say they "prefer" Democratic Party even if they don’t give a hoot about he party itself.

Here’s a link that demonstrates how the Wahkiakum Democratic Party was sidelined by the Top-Two.

Lawmakers like party's when they’re useful – a soft money conduit around individual campaign contribution limits or a caucus as a voting bloc to help pass legislation.

Ultimately, you need a party to "prefer" on the Top-Two ballot. The party "preference" can be seen as referring to the voting record of a respective caucus in the legislature or local governmental body.

A party actually nominating a candidate is considered bad news by the State of Washington. Look at the disclaimer The State puts on the Top-Two ballot?

A party not being able to nominate a candidate is like a bicycle club discouraging riding. How about a book club that doesn’t read?

Democrats need to embrace RCV, or any system that fosters free association. I’ve considered advocating a pilot program in Wahkiakum where we use technology to do our nominations within our general membership. A virtual caucus, if you will.

Private groups doing elections online is nothing new. The Top-Two will stifle this kind of innovation. It’s a classic case of a state program killing private initiative with a misguided attempt at serving the common good.

Even worse – the Top-Two dilutes the collective voice of common people in the sphere of public elections.


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