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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Thursday, February 19, 2009

California Budget Fight Helps "Open Primary" Prospects

UPDATE FROM BALLOT ACCESS NEWS: "According to this Los Angeles Times story, the California budget deal means that the voters of California will vote in June 2010 on whether to install the Washington state-style “top two” [system]. This is bad news; my earlier post had believed the ballot question would match ACA 6, a Louisiana-style system that only applies to state office."

Here's the state constitutional amendment that will go on the June 2010 ballot. Note that it applies to congressional elections as well as state offices.

FURTHER UPDATE: Richard Winger has another excellent post on the "top two" proposal. Certain aspects of it run afoul of the First Amendment and U. S. Supreme Court precedents. The Los Angeles Times has an op-ed on the pros and cons of the "top two."

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Ballot Access News is reporting that a measure for nonpartisan elections-- popularly called "open primaries"-- for state offices will apparently be put on the California ballot. This was one of the promises that Senator Abel Maldonado, a nominal Republican, extracted in return for his vote for the state budget.

The Golden State has had "open primaries" for county and municipal offices for nearly 100 years. The system proposed for state elections would work like Louisiana's system for state and local elections, and Richard Winger describes the difference between that system and Washington state's "top two": "All voters will get the same ballot, and that ballot will contain the names of all candidates [including independents]. The ballot will contain the party membership of each candidate. Based on past experience with the blanket primary, in 85% of all California state elections, one person gets [50%-plus] of the vote in [the first round of] such elections. When no one gets 50%, there will be a run-off in November between the top two vote-getters."

[... .]

"Note that [California's] ACA 6 system is not the same as the “top-two” system used in Washington state. In Washington state, the first round is not an election, because no one can be elected in the first round. In Washington, the first round [in August] is merely a ballot access barrier. All elections in Washington are in November."

In other words, there is always a second round of voting in the Washington "top two," even if one candidate gets 50-plus percent in the first round. Washington, incidentally, is the only state that also uses this nonpartisan system for its congressional elections.

I have been predicting that the proposed constitutional amendment, ACA 6, will fail in the California assembly, and an "open primary" initiative will instead reach the ballot. But Richard seems to think that the assembly will approve ACA 6 and place it on the ballot: "It seems likely the voters will vote “Yes”, because popular opinion in California is extremely negative toward state government just now, because of the longstanding dispute over the state budget."

In November 2004, 54 percent of California voters said "No" to an "open primary" initiative, as Prop. 62 lost in 51 of the state's 58 counties.

It should also be noted that California, like Louisiana, registers voters by party, but Washington state does not.

Here's a good analysis of the "top two" election system, including its effects on small parties.

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