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Abstract

In 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rendered a decision that would pave the way for drastic changes in Washington State's election process. In Democratic Party of Washington v. Reed, the court held that Washington's nearly seventy-year-old blanket primary was unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court declined to review the case. The Ninth Circuit professed to be bound by California Democratic Party v. Jones, the Supreme Court case that ruled California's blanket primary unconstitutional just three years earlier, ignoring the argument that Washington's blanket primary differed materially from California's. What followed was a melee of voter disapproval and disappointment. The Washington State Legislature reacted with damage control efforts but was conflicted. Legislators were pressured by voters who yearned for a primary system that would closely replicate the invalidated blanket primary voters had come to love. They also faced pressure from Washington's political parties to close the primary so that voters would be forced to select candidates for all offices from only one party. Indicative of the turmoil the loss of the blanket primary caused, the Washington State Legislature enacted a nonpartisan primary; Washington's governor vetoed that provision, resulting in the enactment of a Montana-style primary; Washingtonians voted for an initiative to enact the nonpartisan primary as a means of preserving as many of the virtues of the constitutionally-flawed blanket primary as possible; and, at the time of this publication, the state of the primary remains up in the air as Washington voters await the Ninth Circuit's ruling on the appeal of a decision holding the nonpartisan primary unconstitutional. This Comment argues that Reed should be overturned because it fails to appreciate the material distinction between the Washington and California primaries, and that Jones did not render all blanket primaries unconstitutional. In doing so, this Comment examines blanket primaries more generally and argues against the typical perception of political primaries as merely a component of party machinery. Part II explores the historical background of candidate nomination in political parties. Part III details the blanket primary today by exploring the California and Washington systems and the cases invalidating them. Part IV contends that blanket primaries may be deemed constitutional when they are carefully analyzed on a state by state basis, in their state specific context. This section also debunks the notion that political parties have the same rights as purely private organizations and posits that blanket primaries do not violate the freedom of association. In addition, Part IV analyzes a unique form of disenfranchisement that only blanket primaries can prevent and casts the oft-argued distinction between primary and general elections as illusory. This section concludes by tackling the issue of party raiding, arguing that although theoretically possible, it is unlikely, ultimately irrelevant, and not the concern of states.