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Grangers work to save primary

NORTH BEND - The Sallal Grange in North Bend is involved in a statewide project to preserve Washington's blanket primary voting system that has been in place for 65 years but could be in danger of being overhauled by lawsuits.

Grangers are collecting signatures for Initiative 751, and hope to have the necessary 180,000 by the July 6 deadline. State Grange Master Terry Hunt presented the initiative to Washington's Secretary of State, Ralph Monroe, Jan. 8, and now it's up to local Grangers to canvass for support.

"Basically what [I-751] says is to put the power to elect officials where it belongs: with the people, and continue to give the people the right to vote without choosing a political party," said Sallal Grange Master Boots Fischer. "I think this is like Mom and apple pie. I think this is a good thing because people like the blanket primary and you don't have to sell people on the idea.

"Everybody we've talked to about this, people have said they like the way it is and don't want it to change. If [I-751] comes to pass, you're not going to see any difference in the way you're voting now.

"But if it doesn't, we don't know what's going to happen," she added. "If we have to declare a political party, [the politicians] could get up to all kinds of mischief."

The Washington State Grange, which started out mainly as an agricultural organization, proposed the original blanket primary initiative in 1934. After being accepted the next year, it has been challenged unsuccessfully several times since by major political parties.

The current system of not indicating political party preference before casting a ballot was recently contested when California's version of the blanket primary was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed by the state's Democratic Party. Washington's voting system could also become obsolete if lawsuits are filed in this state, or if the Legislature doesn't come up with a solution that takes into account the Supreme Court ruling.

The problem with Washington's system is that political parties have the legal right to restrict who votes for their candidates, which conflicts with the system of voters not currently having to claim a party affiliation to participate in primaries. According to a Grange document, the Republican and Democratic parties of Washington state have filed a lawsuit stating that they do want more control of choosing their own candidates by restricting the participation of voters to only those who claim affiliation.

Grangers propose that I-751 is the solution, and will not change anything from the voter's perspective when it comes to choosing a candidate. The initiative, if passed, would allow voters the freedom of selecting any candidate, no matter the candidate's party affiliation, instead of voting down party lines.

Since 1935, Washington voters have not had to declare their party affiliation during registration or at the polls - something many state residents cherish.

"As a voter I have a right to cast my vote without party issues being involved at all," said Donna Greathouse, Sallal Grange treasurer. "I don't think I should have anybody telling me how to vote." Greathouse's parents recently moved to Arizona and were surprised to find that they had to declare a party when registering to vote in order to receive voters pamphlets.

"I think one of the reasons that it's important is most Washingtonians take it for granted, that's my opinion. They don't realize that what's happening here with voting doesn't happen everywhere," she added. "It's important to let [state residents] know that [the current voting system is] cool and that they might lose it if they don't get on the bandwagon and sign the initiative. It's about choice, when it comes down to it in the simplest terms, it's about the right to choose."

In addition to protecting the voter's right to choose without declaring party affiliation, the proposed initiative lets each political party choose its own official candidate, without any outside influences, and gives the candidate the right to accept or refuse the official party status.

Having that choice in danger is something every voter in the state should be aware of, Greathouse explained.

"It's one of the ways that rural people have a say, so we need to maintain it," she said.

Sallal Grangers will soon be hitting the streets to collect signatures. For more information on I-751, visit www.grange.org.

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