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Socialist Alternative Candidate Sues State To Get Party's Name On Ballot

Deborah Wang

Lawyers for the state of Washington are scheduled to appear in King County Superior Court on Thursday. State elections officials are being sued by a candidate for the State House of Representatives.

Kshama Sawant says her rights are being violated because she can't list her party affiliation on the November ballot.


Kshama Sawant won her spot in the general election in a highly unusual way. She teaches economics at Seattle University and she is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party. In the primary, Sawant originally ran against Democrat Jamie Pedersen. He's one of two people representing Seattle's 43rd Legislative District.

The Stranger Newspaper endorsed Pedersen in that race. But the paper called on its readers to write Sawant's name in against the other representative of the 43rd, Democrat Frank Chopp. He's the powerful Speaker of the House.

When the primary results were tallied, Sawant had won a general election spot in two separate races — against both Pedersen and Chopp. Elections officials gave her the choice of which race to run in, and Sawant decided to challenge Chopp.

But here's the rub: Sawant hadn't filed paperwork in that race. Remember, she was a write–in candidate, so rules prohibit her from listing her political party on the ballot; that has to be done at the beginning of the campaign.

Brian Zylstra is a spokesman for the secretary of state's office. He says elections are like basketball. The rules are set out in the beginning of the game.

Zylstra: "You know, you can't change rules for basketball in the middle of a basketball game. We don't have broad discretion that people think we have on this one."

So Sawant and her campaign filed a lawsuit. They challenged the state's decision. They argue that state law guarantees candidates the right to state their party preference.

They're especially unhappy with the wording that will be used instead. Sawant's name will be followed by the phrase: "states no party preference."

Philip Locker is political director of Sawant's campaign:

Locker: "And we filed a case claiming that this is a question of discrimination and prejudicing the voters because it sends a message to voters that we are — we don't know what we are doing, that we failed to even state a party preference. And we do not see what is the public benefit that is served by not allowing the voters to have full information and full disclosure about who the candidates are."

A King County Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear the case on Thursday.

The case will have to be decided quickly, since King County's ballots will go to the printers next month.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

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