How well do you know the primary election system? It’s the top two

It’s called the top two, and voters need to understand it for next Tuesday’s primary election.

It’s called the top two, and voters need to understand it for next Tuesday’s primary election.

Washington’s method of conducting primaries – challenged on legal grounds by political parties but upheld in a ruling by the nation’s highest court – can be confusing. It allows voters to pick their favorite candidates without having to do it along strictly partisan lines. That means that, when the ballots from next week are added up, it’s possible for voters to send two Democrats or two Republicans, for instance, to the general election in November. The candidates themselves in theory could be less than 100 percent with one party or another, as well.

Leaders of the Democrat, Republican and Libertarian parties opposed the top-two system, which voters statewide approved by passing Initiative 872. Regardless of who likes it and who doesn’t, the system is in place. To help make sure that voters understand it, the King County elections department provides the following:

What it is:

The top-two system allows voters to choose among all candidates running for each office. Voters don’t have to declare a party affiliation to vote. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary (and/or at least 1 percent of the total amount of votes cast in their contest) qualify for the general election. In races that have only two candidates, both advance.

What “party preference” means:

Each candidate for partisan office may state a political party that they prefer. A candidate’s preference doesn’t imply that the candidate is nominated or endorsed by the party, or that the party approves of or associates with that candidate.

How the top-two primary become law:

It was passed by the people in 2004 as Initiative 872 by almost 60 percent. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the new law in March.

What offices are affected:

The top-two applies to partisan offices. This includes the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the state Legislature, partisan statewide offices such as governor, and partisan county offices.

It doesn’t apply to non-partisan offices such as judges, city councils, school boards or fire commissioners.

Write-in candidate:

Ballots will still have lines for voter to write in the names of candidates other than the ones whose names are listed.

More information:

The King County elections office at, or the Washington secretary of state – Washington’s top election official – at