Top two, one party: Republicans miss Washington ballot in some key races
OLYMPIA, Wash. - Choosing between two Democrats in a statewide race is probably not the most optimal position for a Republican voter. In fact, Republican Joshua Freed says it’s no option at all, which is why he’s running as a write-in for lieutenant governor, where a Republican could win with just one-third of the vote.
“We're going to clearly show them through this race that strategically they made a mistake and they're going to have a lieutenant governor that's gonna be a Republican named Joshua freed,” Freed said.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck and state Sen. Marko Liias, both Democrats, won the top-two primary in August with 25 percent and 19 percent of the vote, respectively. For Heck, the top-two system “is what it is,” where the top two vote-getters of a race advance to the general election, regardless of party.
“The question about whether or not we should change it, I think, is one that the voters would have to make. The voters would have to give a signal that they don't like this. Otherwise, it's the rules of the game by which we play,” Heck said.
Heck’s 10th Congressional District seat is also a race featuring two Democrats after he announced his intent to retire from Congress at the end of this term. State Rep. Beth Doglio and former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland beat out a crowded field of candidates in the primary.
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Democrats have also been shut out of major races over the top-two system. In the 2016 race for treasurer, more primary voters elected a Democrat over a Republican, but the two Republicans advanced to the general election after three Democrats splintered the blue vote. Republican Duane Davidson ended up winning the seat.
The top-two system is unpopular among state political parties.
“They’re not big fans of it at all, no, they would like party registration and a closed primary, that’s the ideal,” said Secretary of State Kim Wyman. “But I can tell you that most voters in Washington state absolutely do not want either of those things.”
Wyman would know. She said she’s still getting calls from voters complaining about having to declare a party affiliation for the presidential primary back in March.
Washington voters passed the top-two system by 60 percent through a ballot initiative in 2004. State political parties fought back and the case dragged out in court for years until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the initiative in 2008. Voting has been this way in the state for more than a decade and Wyman said there’s little appetite to change it.
“[Politicians] could but I guarantee you they’ll face the wrath of voters and there will be an initiative to overturn whatever it is they pass into law,” she said.
In Washington, the law of the land is to pick the person, not the party. And with that, sometimes two people from the same party come out on top.