Munro, Secretary of State of Washington v. Socialist Workers Party

PETITIONER: Munro, Secretary of State of Washington
RESPONDENT: Socialist Workers Party
LOCATION: Deseret Gymnasium

DOCKET NO.: 85-656
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 479 US 189 (1986)
ARGUED: Oct 07, 1986
DECIDED: Dec 10, 1986

Daniel Jesse Smith - on behalf of the appellees
Daniel Hoyt Smith - for appellees
James M. Johnson - on behalf of the appellant

Facts of the case


Media for Munro, Secretary of State of Washington v. Socialist Workers Party

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 07, 1986 in Munro, Secretary of State of Washington v. Socialist Workers Party

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments next in No. 85-656, Ralph Munro, Secretary of State of Washington, versus Socialist Workers Party.

Mr. Johnson, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

James M. Johnson:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the State of Washington has a uniquely open election system, a system unusually hospitable to new and minor parties and independents and their candidates.

Washington voters wishing to exercise their right to politically associate through these vehicles easily organize and choose their candidates.

Those candidates have long been automatically placed on the Washington elections ballot.

After a 1976 election, with the most crowded ballot in Washington's history, the Washington legislature decided to exercise what this Court has called a state's undoubted right to require candidates to make a showing of substantial support in order to qualify for a place on the ballot.

The Washington legislature, by statute, placed all candidates on the primary ballot and added a requirement that any candidate not able to attract the votes of 1 percent of the voters would not remain on the ballot a second time.

It is that 1 percent requirement to remain on the ballot a second time that is challenged here by a candidate placed on the Washington primary ballot who got fewer than 600 votes, less than one-tenth of the 1 percent, and thus was not remained on the... did not remain on the Washington ballot a second time in the general election.

I shall explain first the Washington experience and the election with its crowded ballot in 1976 leading to this change, then telling you why the 1 percent is consistent with this Court's numerical definitions of substantial support and argue under this Court's decision the Washington requirement is neither unconstitutional per se and is less than the numerical test that this Court has approved, such as the Jenness v. Fortson, a 5 percent of voters test, arguing that it is less burdensome on minor parties and serves to improve the political debate which is the constitutional issue before the Court; finally... and also that the Washington statute by cutting off some few candidates avoids subsidizing hopeless candidates, as this Court recognized in the different case of Buckley v. Valeo was appropriate.

Finally, I can show--

William H. Rehnquist:

Subsidizing meaning printing, including their name on the ballot?

James M. Johnson:

--There's more than that in the State of Washington, Chief Justice Rehnquist.

The printing on the ballot and the counting of votes is one issue.

Washington is also unique in the states that we print and distribute to every residence in Washington a voter's pamphlet and candidates' pamphlet for publicizing the election and the candidates, at considerable expense.

In that additional regard, I think, we are subsidizing hopeless candidates by placing on the ballot those candidates that have not and will not receive any substantial support.

John Paul Stevens:

Is that kind of information disseminated in connection with the primary as well as the general election?

James M. Johnson:

It is not, Justice Stevens.

It is only disseminated in conjunction with the general, and may have been one factor in the legislature determination to move this substantial support determination to the primary.

I referred to Washington's uniquely open system.

I shortly explain, and explain the relevance of this system.

In Washington there is no party registration.

There is no identification of voters by party in the State of Washington at all.

The voting is a blanket primary, we have referred to it, and the general is the same.

Under a blanket voting system each Washington voter may vote for any candidate for any position irregardless of party affiliation.

One vote per race, of course.

In a case tomorrow arising from Connecticut you will hear debated the merits of open versus closed primaries and restrictions on voters, how they vote by party.

In Washington we have no such system.

The Washington system is more open than the open primary.

This has direct relevance, of course, to using a primary vote requirement for determining substantial support, since any Washington voter attracted to the votes can vote for any and all candidates.

For example, a Washington voter may choose to vote for a Socialist Worker candidate for governor, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, a Democrat candidate for their local legislatures, et cetera, down the ballot.