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Party Pooper: Ninth Circuit Affirms Washington Open Primaries

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 20, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Washington's open primaries this week, allowing the state to proceed with its policy of advancing the top two vote-getters in a primary to the general election, regardless of their party affiliations, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Washington's Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties challenged the open primaries on the grounds that the elections limited their constitutional right of association by taking away their authority to choose their candidates.

The parties also argued that the new system was confusing to voters because it identifies candidates by their preferred party affiliation. The parties claim that letting the candidate decide on his or her party affiliation, without party input, gives the mistaken impression that a party has endorsed that candidate, reports the Times.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the voter-approved open primaries, ruling that Washington had designed its election ballots in a manner that eliminates the risk of widespread voter confusion.

The court wrote, "The ballots, and related informational materials, inform voters that, although each candidate for partisan office may specify a political party that he or she prefers, a candidate's preference does not imply that the candidate is nominated or endorsed by the party, or that the party approves of or associates with that candidate ... In the absence of evidence of actual voter confusion, we hold that Washington's top two primary system, as implemented by the state, does not violate the First Amendment associational rights of the state's political parties."

While Californians no doubt view this Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision as good news for California's open primaries, the Times indicates that a court could still strike down California's system because it doesn't offer voters a way to write in candidates on general election ballots.

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