OLYMPIA, Aug. 23.—The Romney-Ryan ticket will appear on the Washington state ballot, a Thurston County Judge decided Thursday, tossing out a suit from the state Libertarian Party that would have stricken their names and forced them to run as write-ins.
Republicans can breathe easier: Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee ruled that the Republicans are indeed a major party. And Democrats can breathe easier, too, knowing that there actually will be a presidential race in this state that might convince Democratic voters to turn in ballots.
Actually, it wasn’t much of a contest. Immediately after Libertarian attorney John Mills offered his arguments in court Thursday morning, Judge McPhee said he would dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning the Libertarians can’t file the same suit elsewhere. Republicans say they plan to seek legal fees and sanctions under Washington’s Court Rule 11, which require lawsuits to be well-grounded in fact. It could be a hefty tab. Attorneys for the state Republican Party and the Romney campaign say they had to work overtime on this one. “I’m pretty expensive,” joked Republican Party attorney Rob Maguire of Davis Wright Tremaine.
Mills said after the hearing that the Libertarians are unlikely to appeal the decision.
Republicans a Minor Party?
The suit had to do with a convoluted bit of law that distinguishes “minor parties” from the major parties that are guaranteed a spot on the Washington ballot for their presidential candidates. A never-repealed law from the state’s abandoned pick-a-party primary says a major party must have 5 percent of the vote for one of their nominees in an immediately preceding statewide election taking place in an even-numbered year. The only race that fits that description is the U.S. Senate race of 2010. The crux of the lawsuit is that the state Republican party did not nominate a candidate for U.S. Senate at its convention that year. At that point there was a spirited contest between Republicans Dino Rossi and Clint Didier.
If there was no nominee, the Libertarians say Republicans should have followed the state’s minor-party rules. To win a spot on the ballot, minor parties must submit a petition with 1,000 names and hold a nominating convention. Republicans didn’t do that. “What it says… is that the rules for the Republicans are different, they are big guys, they are politically powerful, everybody knows who they are, and you know what, no harm, no foul, and I think that does a real disservice to the idea that the rule of law is important,” Mills argued.
Republicans point out that they nominated Rossi after he won the primary election, with a vote of their executive committee. And Judge McPhee said the law clearly allows political parties to decide how they will nominate their own candidates. That made things easy, he said, but he said he also agreed with the secretary of state’s office that the law had essentially been repealed when Washington moved to its current top-two primary system in 2006. State elections officials now rely on a regulation that says major parties need only get 5 percent of the vote in the previous presidential election.
Gets a Little Goofy
But that wasn’t all there was to it. During the hearing, Mills said that if Romney was reduced to write-in status it really wouldn’t make that much difference. “Washington is a reliably blue state, and so the consequence of that is that it is highly unlikely that Mr. Romney or any Republican nominee will win Washington’s 12 electors anyway.”
The irony is that the same argument might be made for excluding any of Washington’s minor parties. Six of them have nominated candidates this year, including the Libertarians. Mills said afterward that minor parties might be able to nominate, say, President Obama or Mitt Romney, and win major-party status that way. But it wouldn’t be that easy, state officials point out. The candidate’s name would appear on a separate line of the ballot with a different party designation and a 5 percent score would still be required. It’s not an option for the Libertarians this year anyway. They’ve already nominated Gary Johnson of New Mexico.
“Just shows how silly they are,” said state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur. “They pursue silly things and that’s why nobody pays attention to them.”