Hot-button politics
3:01 pm
Wed August 8, 2012

Did Washington almost elect a high court justice because of race?

The latest election results from Washington’s primary shows that more than 43 percent of Washington voters cast their ballots for a state supreme court justice candidate with no judicial experience, who raised no campaign funds and was a public no-show.

The biggest factor in the race appears to have been one candidate's last name - Gonzalez.

Election results published by the Washington Secretary of State’s office this afternoon showed Bruce O. Danielson pulled in 276,142 votes for, so far, 43.1 percent of voters.

His competitor, Washington Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez, was appointed by Governor Christine Gregoire to fill a vacancy, raised more than $300,000 and had the endorsement of powerful Democrats and Republicans including many news organizations around the state.

Gonzalez has so far received 364,615 votes or 56.9 percent of the total.

The left-leaning (to put it mildly) Seattle news org. The Stranger stated what many had feared might happen in this important election.

“... it's hard to feel very good about the results, since his challenger, Bruce Danielson, got 43 percent of the vote.

“The only way to explain this is prejudice.

“Danielson raised exactly $0. In Kitsap County—where he lives and where some people actually know a few things about his failed runs for other offices—Danielson lost. (Maybe it had something to do with the head of the Kitsap County Bar Association pointing out that Danielson has 'zero qualifications to be on the bench.')"

But Bruce Danielson has a very, very white-sounding name.

In our own pre-election story, KPLU reporter Paula Wissel, wrote:

“All of this might make you think, with more resources and recognition, the race would be a slam dunk for Justice Gonzalez. 

“But, legal watchers say not necessarily. Why? Because of the uninformed way we often choose our judges. In a Seattle coffee shop, one voter describes his method this way.

“ 'It’s called the old grade school eeny, miny moe principle. If someone has a nice name and they're attractive, then I’ll vote for them,' he said."

And when it comes to names, some research suggests Gonzalez name could hurt him, that voters are more likely to choose an Anglo-Saxon name, such as Danielson, than a Hispanic one, we wrote.

Wissel’s reporting was echoed in The Seattle Times

“Matt Barreto, a political-science professor at the University of Washington who has studied the issue, says research in other states "far and away" shows that when Hispanic candidates run, they get less support than they would if they were not Hispanic.”

That has us wondering if many Washington voters picked a candidate based on race instead of qualifications.

What do you think?