On Friday, Washington's secretary of state certified the results of the state's Aug. 2 primaries, cementing an atrocious and under-reported outcome in this year's open treasurer's race. Thanks to Washington's top-two primary, a pair of Republicans will advance to the November general election, meaning no voter will be able to cast a ballot for a Democrat—this in a state that hasn't voted for a Republican for president since the Reagan landslide of 1984.
In fact, Washington hasn't elevated a Republican to the treasurer's office since 1952, when Republican Charles Maybury won a 1-point squeaker the same year Ike was cruising to victory. That trend should have and would have continued this year, had a perfect storm of suck not materialized, as just two Republicans ran for treasurer along with three Democrats. Under the top-two system, all candidates run together on a single primary ballot, and the two highest vote-getters move on to the general election, regardless of party. And because that trio of Democrats managed to split the vote ever so precisely, the two GOP candidates were able to take the top two slots, though it was very close.
As a consequence, the final battle will take place between Benton County Treasurer Duane Davidson, who wound up in first with 25 percent of the vote, and finance executive Michael Waite, the runner-up with 23. The top Democrat was state Sen. Marko Liias, who took finished just out of the money with 20 percent, while pension consultant John Comerford grabbed 18 and former Port of Seattle Commissioner Alec Fisken ended with 13. In other words, even though primary voters backed Democrats by a 52-48 margin overall, they won’t get the chance to back a Democrat in the fall.
We've seen this same phenomenon before, but this is the first single-party statewide election ever to take place in Washington. That's just terrible for democracy. California also uses a top-two primary, and there, polls show that many Republican voters simply plan to sit out this years's Senate race between Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez. But at least we know that California, a very blue state, would likely have elected a Democrat to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer anyway. Washington, by contrast, almost certainly would have voted in another Democrat as treasurer, so the situation here is particularly perverse.
Supposed "good-government" reformers naïvely believed that eliminating partisan primaries would somehow crank down partisan gridlock by forcing office-seekers to moderate their views in order to win. Not only has that not happened, but voters have repeatedly been denied the opportunity to vote for the party of their choice thanks to debacles like these. It's long past time for proponents to acknowledge their mistake and advocate for a return to proper primaries—and proper democracy.