In a decision that could foreshadow survival of California’s new “top two” primary system, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a similar Washington state ballot initiative that changed the way voters choose candidates in primaries. Both states’ voters approved measures allowing the top two vote-getters in a primary to advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. The format replaced closed primaries, in which each party chose a candidate for the general election.
The Washington law, which was approved in 2004 and went into effect in 2008, was challenged by the state’s Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties on grounds that it limited their constitutional right of association by taking away their authority to choose their candidates.
The political parties also alleged that the new system confused voters because each primary candidate is identified by his or her preferred party affiliation, leaving the impression that the party had endorsed him or her. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, which hears cases from a nine-state region including California, unanimously rejected those arguments from the Washington plaintiffs.