June 07, 2009

Top-Two System in Washington State Far from "Nirvana"

See here and here.

It is quite interesting to me the role that joke or gag candidacies have played in Washington State election law. My 2006 Wisconsin Law Review article, Bad Legislative Intent, explains the history of why Washington State changed its primary rules in 1977, leading to the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Munro v. Socialist Workers Party:

    The actual story of the 1977 amendments to Washington's election laws is more complex and surprisingly more entertaining than the fare usually found in election law articles. In the 1976 election, a jazz musician named Red Kelly decided to qualify a minor party to the ballot that he dubbed the "OWL" Party. "OWL" stood for "Out with logic; on with lunacy," and the party's goal appeared to be social and political satire rather than a desire to mount serious candidacies to gain election or influence the position of major party candidates on particular issues. The OWL Party ran a slate of candidates in the 1976 election whose names, pictures and platforms were featured in the 1976 Washington state ballot pamphlet, printed at state expense, and mailed to Washington state voters.

    Griswold ran for secretary of state as an OWL candidate who advocated that the next secretary be able to "take shorthand or do typing." She also took "unequivocal stands" against "(1) the heartbreak of psoriasis; (2) Bed wetting; (3) The big 'O'; [and] (4) Post nasal drip." Jack "The Ripoff" Lemon ran as OWL Party candidate for lieutenant governor, proclaiming that his platform "is a four cornered triangle which has as its cornerstone a piece of pink Venetian marble which [he] picked up while spelunking in the catacombs under the Vatican." He pledged that "heads will roll" after the election, to be accomplished "by the renting of two Porta Pottys, placing them on wheels and pushing them over the precipice behind the Governor's mansion." He concluded that "[i]f you care enough to send the very least, vote for a Lemon and throw the rascals out."

    These joke candidacies inspired the Seattle Times to editorialize soon after the 1976 election that the state should tighten up ballot access rules:

      The Owl Party spoof this year irritated many voters who might have liked the gags, but who disapproved of the costs of including the group's candidates on ballots and in the Voters Pamphlet. Some critics also saw the Owl's "put on" as opening the door to additional frivolous electioneering in the future. That concern is not without merit. The next Legislature would do well to review the situation--not to bar legitimate candidates from the ballot, but to limit the field to genuine political viewpoints to reduce costs, ballot clutter and confusion. One step in that direction could be to stiffen the requirements for minor-party conventions. The present rules date back to the mid-1930s.

    Indeed, as an opponent of proposed legislation later noted, "one sponsor [of the bill in the State Senate that became the 1977 law] said he introduced the bill because the satirical OWL party made Washington State the laughingstock of the nation last fall."
(footnotes omitted)
The more things change...

Posted by Rick Hasen at June 7, 2009 09:03 PM