Primary voters greeted with ballot changes in 2004

KING COUNTY - Voters hitting the primary polls on Sept. 14 are in for a change.

For the first time in almost 70 years, Washington has adopted a new primary system that requires voters to select a party ballot if you want to vote for candidates for partisan office. What that means is that you may only vote for the candidates of one political party in the primary.

The changes are the result of lawsuits filed by three political parties. Federal courts found Washington's blanket primary to be unconstitutional. Following the ruling, the Legislature adopted a new primary law that provided for two distinct types of primaries. Gov. Gary Locke vetoed one of the models and signed the current system into law.

These rules will not affect the General Election in November.

To help determine what ballot format would be the most effective, King County mailed sample ballot formats to 1,600 randomly-selected voters and conducted a series of in-person focus groups with those responding. There were four major findings:

* People followed the instructions and correctly adjusted to the changes in numbers far greater than experienced in other states;

* Though the separate ballot design (one ballot for each party and one for non-partisan races and ballot measures; voters choose one and throw away the three unused ballots) had its supporters, people were concerned about the costs and waste of mailing three times as much paper as necessary.

* More voters indicated support for a single ballot over separate ballots - and more importantly - the rate of correctly-filled out ballots was the same for single and separate ballot designs;

* Even though many people were angry about the change, they considered voting too important a right to let it stand in the way of their voting in the primary.

A consolidation ballot was chosen for this election rather than separate ballots.

When voters arrive at the polls, they will be being voting by marking their party selection at the top of the ballot. After voting for candidates from within their party they can complete the ballot by voting in the non-partisan contests and ballot measures, even if they decide not to select a party affiliation.

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