June 28: Voice of the Times on Alaska's blanket primary:

Posted: Wednesday, July 05, 2000

Kiss the open primary goodbye. No matter how you try to juggle the system, the U.S. Supreme Court has put the kibosh on letting just any voter step into the polling place and help nominate the candidates who will represent political parties in the next general election.

Primaries, the high court held, are to let voters registered with one party pick the nominees of that party. No more crossovers. No more nonparty members voting to nominate Democrats or Republicans or whatever.

Specifically, the court - in a surprising 7-2 ruling - threw out the California primary system. In the process, it also tossed Alaska's primary system into the trash can.

What happens now is still not clear - but big changes will have to made, and made quickly. The Alaska primary is scheduled for Aug. 22, less than two months from now. The ballots for that election had been scheduled for printing next week.

The lieutenant governor's office, which is in charge of Alaska's elections, is scrambling to figure out what to do - guided by the attorney general's office.

In its action Monday, the Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had upheld the California law - another in the continuing number of times that the San Francisco appellate court has been reversed by the nation's highest court.

The justices avoided deciding on the validity of modified open primary systems used in 20 other states where voters can decide in which party primary to cast their ballots - but can vote only for candidates of the party they pick.

Thirteen states have closed primaries in which only voters who are registered with a particular party can cast ballots in the respective party contests. And 13 others have closed primaries, but allow independents to cast ballots in at least one party's races.

Along with California and Alaska, the high court's decision also wiped out the primary system used in Washington state - and may affect Louisiana, which has a nonpartisan primary that permits voters to choose any candidate regardless of party affiliation.

Justice Antonin Scalia said the California law forces ''political parties to associate with those who do not share their beliefs . . . at the crucial juncture at which party members traditionally find their collective voice and select their spokesman.''

Alaska's open primary system has deep roots. With the exception of two elections, voters here have enjoyed the freedom to move back and forth on the ballot since territorial days - as long ago as 1947. When statehood was achieved a decade later, the open primary remained an Alaska favorite.

Not any more.



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